[Coral-List] Cyanobacteria outbreak

Todd Barber reefball at reefball.com
Fri Nov 2 13:47:50 EDT 2012

Reef Ball Foundation regularly uses cyanobacteria outbreaks as a fairly
reliable indicator of general water quality issues.  Cyanobacteria (as
described by Billy...but I have observed it in various other colors around
the world including red, dark green, brownish and even black) is also a
common problem for Salt Water aquarium owners when they have water quality

We have seen abundant outbreaks off the Mayan Peninsula associated with
water flowing from underground sources to offshore reefs (the cenote system
[underground springs]) for example.  And this has increased since farming
became more intensive with fertilizers.

Cyanobacteria can become very widespread in just 48 hours (or faster) and
some aquarium owners have even gone to bed with a clean tank to wake up
with there entire tanks covered in reddish slime.

They multiply and spread in matt-like forms, then as they generate O2
during the day from photosynthesis the bubbles lift parts of the mat and
the slimy nature allows them to break off into small "air balloons" that
float around the sea until the air is released and the algae resettles to
the sea floor and is able to rapidly spread across the seafloor to obtain

Cyanobacteria can kill coral by suffocation if the outbreak lasts very long
although I am not aware it is directly toxic if removed quickly.  Removal
will spread the "infection" by the way if water quality is poor.

Cyanobacteria disappear fairly rapidly when water quality improves.

It's possible to get a "false positive" in water quality judgements if a
fisherperson has cleaned a fish and pitched it over board or around dead
marine life.  It's not really false, just a spot local source of pollution.

The SAD thing in using Cyanobacteria as an indicator of water quality is
that once you have been trained to spot it, you start seeing it everywhere
and it can ruin your dive experiences!  You have been warned.

By the way, as a field organization, we often find biological clues that
are more highly correlated with "true" water quality than what scientists
report when testing nitrates/ammonia and so forth.  Scientific tests tend
to be a "point in time" whereas many biological indicators are either
opportunistic (like Cyanobacteria) or "always monitoring" like coral.
Might be a great project for someone to look into correlating easy to
observe biological indicators with specific water quality parameters to
give more people around the world a way to raise their hand when water
quality gets worse.

PS I am NOT a scientist studying Cyanobacteria....this is just field


Todd R Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation

941-484-7482 (Direct)
941-720-7549 (Cell & Goggle Voice)
toddbarber Skype

www,reefball.org (Reef Ball Foundation)
www.artificialreefs.org (Designed Artificial Reefs)
www.reefbeach.com (Reefs for Beach Erosion)
www.eternalreefs.com (Memorial Reefs)
www.reefball.com (Reef Ball Foundation)

On Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 11:28 AM, Billy Causey <billy.causey at noaa.gov> wrote:

> Dear Alberto Acosta,
> Thank you for posting these observations of Cyanobscteria on
> Providencia Islands coral reefs.  For years we have discussed the
> connectivity between the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve and the Gulf of
> Mexico and the Florida Keys with our friends and colleagues in
> Week before last, GP Schmahl ( Superintendent of the Flower Garden
> Banks National Marine Sanctuary); Emma Hickerson (the FGBNMS Science
> Coordinator) and I were diving the West and East Flower Garden Banks
> on a Gov/Industry cruise.  We observed what appeared to be mats of
> Cyanobacteria covering portions of the benthic substrate.
> I will let GP and Emma chime in here, but what we observed reminded me
> of a similar outbreak of what appeared to be the same Cyanobacteria
> (that's not what we called it then.... we simply  called it a
> blue-green algae outbreak)
> that occurred in the Florida Keys in 1986. It was a thick may, of
> purplish algae that grew over everything, even the bare sand bottom.
> Again, thank you for sharing your observations.  I am going to be on
> San Andreas week after next and will take a look on the reefs in that
> area of the archipelago.
> Best wishes!  Billy Causey
> Billy D. Causey, Ph.D.
> Southeast Regional Director
> NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
> 33 East Quay Road
> Key West, Florida 33040
> Phone:
> 305 809 4670 office
> 305 395 0150 mobile
> 305 293 5011 fax
> Email:
> billy.causey at noaa.gov
> On Nov 2, 2012, at 6:03 AM, Luis Alberto Acosta Moreno
> <laacosta at javeriana.edu.co> wrote:
> > Dear Listers
> > Hello. In a recent expedition where we aimed to evaluate coral reef state
>  at the Providencia island, Colombian Caribbean, we saw an unusual
>  cyanobacteria outbreak.
> > The cyanobacteria fully covered the reef bottom (up to 50 cm high) as
> well
>  as the water column of some reef areas at the NW of the island (close to
>  downtown). Different morphotypes also covered large areas of sand bottom
> and
>  seagrass around the island.
> > I have some videos that I can share if someone is interested to help us
>  with this environmental problem.
> >
> > Best wishes,
> >
> > Alberto Acosta
> > Professor
> > Biology Department
> > Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
> > Colombia
> >
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