How humans affect coral reef recovery from natural disasters

The world’s coral reefs are both stunningly beautiful and vital to ocean health, hosting a huge diversity of fish and marine life. And they are, as they always have been, under pressure from periodic natural disasters. However, a coral reef’s ability to recover from unavoidable and often unpredictable natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, may depend on human activities including fishing and pollution. UC Davis marine biologist Mike Gil is one of the scientists working to understand how reefs recover from natural disturbances in the presence of unnatural, man-made stressors.

Polluted Bay, deformed fish

A new study from UC Davis researchers shows that baby striped bass hatched from female fish collected from San Franciso Bay contain pollutants including flame retardants, industrial chemicals and pesticides passed on from their mothers. The hatchlings had damaged brains and livers, and grew more slowly than fish raised in clean water in a hatchery.

“This is one of the first studies examining the effects of real-world contaminant mixtures on growth and development in wildlife,” said study lead author David Ostrach, a research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. He said the findings have implications far beyond fish, because the estuary is the water source for two-thirds of the people and most of the farms in California.