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Scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered a group of algae that significantly contributes to the decline of coral reefs. These 'turf algae' were never addressed in studies on the destruction of reefs as up until now scientists considered the larger and more visible ‘macroalgae’ to be responsible.

Scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered a group of algae that significantly contributes to the decline of coral reefs. These 'turf algae' were never addressed in studies on the destruction of reefs as, up until now, scientists considered the larger and more visible ‘macro algae’ to be responsible for the damage. The results of the investigation on the Dutch coral reefs in the Caribbean have recently been published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

In recent decades, several studies have shown that coral reefs around the world are in a state of decline. Corals are disappearing and the seabed is gradually becoming covered in algae. Overfishing of algae-eating herbivores such as parrotfish and the eutrophication of coastal waters (the supersaturation of sea water with nutrients) have led to a situation where there is a threat of coral reefs becoming overgrown with large plant-like algae called macro algae. An increase of macro algae in a coral reef is therefore widely regarded as a sign that the reef is dying. Virtually all attention is paid to the macro algae, while the much smaller ‘turf algae’ are largely ignored.

A recent study by the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the UvA and the marine research station Carmabi in Curacao, however, shows that it is the turf algae which are causing stress to coral reefs and leading to their extinction on a large scale. The research was led by Dr. Mark Vermeij, who works for both the IBED and Carmabi. Vermeij worked together with Dr. Petra Visser from the IBED, as well as a number of Master’s students from the Limnology and Oceanography study programme at the UvA.