Pollution, warming spur marine diseases
September 13, 1999
Web posted at: 12:37 p.m. EDT (1637 GMT)
Global warming, pollution and human development are all indicted as contributing factors to the recent rise in life-ending disease outbreaks in aquatic ecosystems, 14 scientists reported in the Sept. 3 issue of the journal Science.
Coral reefs are threatened by rising global temperatures and pollution in the marine environment.
"We, as people, are slowly shifting the structure and function of our aquatic resources," said JoAnn Burkholder, a professor of aquatic ecology and marine science at North Carolina State University.
The paper examines recent outbreaks such as the toxic aquatic organism Pfiesteria piscicida that has led to fish kills in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and the bleaching of coral reefs around the world due to rising temperatures.
"The combined effects of rising temperatures, human activity and pollution are producing a volatile mix that may threaten tropical corals and temperate species alike," said C. Drew Harvell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, in a statement.
While it is difficult to generalize about these complex issues in a single paper, the scientists hope that it paints a more complete picture of what affect human actions are having on the marine environment than would individual reports on their research.
The toxic organism Pfiesteria piscicida has been blamed for large fish kills in Chesapeake Bay.
Since some marine diseases are transmissible or toxic to humans — apart from their influence on biodiversity of the sea — there is an "urgent need" for interdisciplinary studies on ocean epidemics, said Harvell.
"The paucity of baseline and epidemiological information on normal disease levels in the ocean challenges our ability to assess the recent spate of disease outbreaks," the authors write in the paper.
Burkholder noted that such language might be interpreted as a call for more research funding, as is common with scientific papers. However, she hopes it raises awareness of a growing problem that humans have the ability to do something about.
"What I think people need to realize is that we have enough evidence to act now," she said. "We know some of these problems are strongly linked to pollution and climate change. We need to strongly address water pollution problems in our coastal areas."
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