Scientists Urge Further Study Of Alarming Coral Reef Decline

Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the mysterious decline of coral reefs throughout the world and are recommending more extensive research into the potentially serious problem.

The corals are at the center of a complex food web. When they die, thousands of other species are in jeopardy. People in some developing nations are dependant on the coral reef communities for their food or livelihoods. Corals also contain toxins that offer promise for cancer research and chemical compounds that could be used to make new medicines. "But we are just in the infancy of doing those kinds of studies," said Johns Hopkins University biologist Gary K. Ostrander. Ostrander co-authored a scientific paper about the worldwide threat with biologist William J. Meehan, a doctoral student in his laboratory.

The paper, essentially an overview of declining coral reef health, will be published on April 25 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.

"We are pointing out that these corals are dying all over the world," Ostrander said. Scientists do not know what is causing the coral reef deterioration, which has accelerated dramatically since the early 1980s. But their deaths may signal serious, as-yet unidentified environmental ills, said Ostrander, who noted in the paper that there have been few studies to detail the phenomenon at the molecular and cellular levels. Also lacking are studies aimed at uncovering possible environmental causes.

"We believe our ability to understand and possibly remedy this complex global problem will be accelerated as toxicologists begin to address these issues," the two biologists concluded in their paper.

Corals, like jellyfish and sea anemones, belong to the phylum Cnidaria. They are tiny animals that use their tentacles to catch food particles floating in the water. Certain types of corals produce calcium carbonate skeletons -- the coral reefs. Once attached to the chalky white skeleto

Contact: Emil Venere
Johns Hopkins University

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