[Coral-List] Oil palm plantation runoff and reef mortality

Thomas Goreau goreau at bestweb.net
Mon Aug 27 12:59:26 EDT 2007

Don Baker's and Achier Chung Fung Chen's comments about the large  
amount of freshwater runoff into Borneio reefs from areas covered  
with oil palm plantations raises some very interesting issues. Of  
course it has been known for a long time that massive freshwater  
discharges onto reefs can cause coral bleaching and mortality (T.  
Goreau, 1963 in Jamaica, and Peter Glynn's and Carlos Goenaga's later  
papers in Puerto Rico, for example), but this is much worse when it  
is loaded with fertilizers, sewage, and agrochemicals.

However there is an interesting new wrinkle from a microbiological  
standpoint. James Cervino and our team followed changes in large  
sponge die off in New Guinea, and isolated a consortium of bacteria  
from dying sponge tissue that did not occur on healthy tissue of the  
same colonies. What was fascinating was that the rRNA sequencing  
revealed that the putative pathogens were all very closely related to  
species of bacteria widely used in sprays (some aerial) in oil palm  
plantations as "good, friendly" bacteria in integrated pest  
management, mainly species of Pseudomonas used against fungal  
infections, and species of Bacillus used against insect pests,  
including Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Bt is widely used because it releases a crystal toxin that attacks  
the membrane sodium ion transport enzyme in the stomachs of  
invertebrates, causing them to die quickly from osmotic shock. The  
receptor is common to almost all invertebrates, but does not occur in  
vertebrates, so they are completely unaffected. Because humans,  
mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes are not affected it is  
regarded as "safe". However basically all insects are affected, along  
with snails, and nematodes, but we could find no information about it  
being tested on marine invertebrates at all. The fact that sponges  
seem to be affected directly by these so called "good harmless"  
bacteria (or by marine species so closely related to them that they  
might have picked up their genes) implies that many other higher  
marine invertebrates could too (but not fishes). Bt is widely used  
around the world, and the gene for the crystal toxin is I believe  
genetically engineered into many plants. The implications for the  
marine environment are unexamined, but so potentially serious that  
work urgently needs to be done on this. We have had to abandon this  
work due to lack of funding. But it needs to be re-examined in the  
light of what is being seen in Borneo. The events described in  
Nonuti, Abemema, and the Maldives must have other explanations, though.

J. M. Cervino, K. Winiarski-Cervino, S.W. Polson, T.J. Goreau, & G.W.  
Smith, 2006, Identification of bacteria associated with a disease  
affecting the sponge Ianthella basta, in New Britain, Papua New  

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
goreau at bestweb.net

From: Don Baker <reefpeace at yahoo.com>
Subject: [Coral-List] Fwd: Re:  Mystery Event - Lankayan Island,	Sulu
	Sea Sandakan
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Cc: Ken Chung <kenchung49 at gmail.com>, achier300 <achier300 at yahoo.com>
Message-ID: <695480.80478.qm at web58008.mail.re3.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

Hi Coral-L:

The posted herein statement from the Reef Guardian/Lankayan Marine  
Biologist (Ms Chung) is the most accurate account....

I stand corrected on the suspected source of the event but very  
concerned at the toxic nature of the runoff from the river that is 26  
Km from the island itself..and this nows leads into another issue.

The Issue => Land runoff from existing and expanding oil palm estates  
that have virtually covered all of North Borneo less the high grounds.

The independent oil palm mills are not regulated with any viable form  
of effect environmental enforcement within Sabah itself. (Again..the  
key word here is enforcement) They wait until there is heavy rainfall  
and only then do they dump their retaining ponds with the gross  
processing mill effluents.

The Gov. State & Fed levels of environmental regulation and  
enforcement seem to be controlled by their receiving deep pockets and  
very little effort is done to control the pollution itself.  And I  
challenge these entities with the Lankayan Event!

Biogas and the biofuel syndrome may be causing the demise of all of  
Bornoe's forests.

Just what does this mean for the future of coral reefs worldwide if  
the tropical forests are chopped and replanted with mono-crops??  The  
lag periods between chopped, cleared ground until replanted, regrowth  
is the most critical period for reasons of soil and chemical runoff.   
This is also true for existing plantations that have to chop old oil  
palms down to replant new trees.

Comments? Advice?

Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2007 03:10:33 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Chung, F.C." <achier300 at yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Mystery Event - Lankayan Island, Sulu Sea
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Message-ID: <267494.94904.qm at web61218.mail.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

Dear all,

The mortality of shallow corals on reef flat at Lankayan Island few  
months (January
2007) back were duel to input of river water from mainland. I was on  
the island
to witness the changes of the water quality during the event. Lankayan
  Islands is located about 26 Kilometers
away from the mainland. In last January, rough sea and unusual rain
fall had caused flooded in few places near Sandakan.
The inputs of river water to Lankayan were observed continuously more  
than 10
days bringing debris like bamboo, Rhizophora seeds, sargassum mat.  
Water colour
changing from clear to greenish and then to brownish (day 10). After  
11 days, dead
sea cucumbers and sea urchins were washed ashore, giant clams fleshes  
floating on surface. The brown water colour was first observed in  
Lankayan and
it had suspected contents harmful substance from river that possible  
the coral, giant clam and etc. However no laboratory test was done on  
the water
that time.

Basic water quality parameters were measured during the
event, we found that the water salinity was low (average 25ppt,  
minimum 17 ppt)
on both surface and in 5 m. Average water temperature was 27.8C and  
no dead
fish was observed during the event. On day 12, we did a survey dive,  
the water
colour was green but clear and water temperature around 27C. The  
shallow coral
from 4m and above were death, majority Acropora
sp, Seriatopora sp, blue coral and others. A short paper regarding these
phenomena is in press. Click on link below to see photographs taken  
during the event.



Achier/ Chung Fung Chen

Marine Biologist

Reef Guardian Sdn Bhd

Lankayan Island

Sugud Islands
Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA)

Sandakan, Sabah
Email: achier300 at yahoo.com

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