Coral reef fish have a hard time as they grow up because of their being exposed to oil in the early stages of their life, at least according to a new study. Even small amounts of this chemical substance in marine environments can lead to more problems than believed.
Research on the matter was conducted by US, Australian, and Norwegian scientists. They published their results in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The paper also brings to attention the risks provoked by an increased industrial activity in regions such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Coral Reef Fish Impaired by Oil As They Look For Home
Study results are based on tests carried out in simulated marine environments which housed six reef fish species. These were all part of the Lethrinidae and Pomacentridae families. All of them can be found swimming in the Great Barrier Reef.
The team introduced minimal amounts of oil in their simulated environments, and then monitored the fish. According to a study co-author, Dr. Jodie Rummer from the James Cook University, the results were “quite alarming”.
The oil concentration in the simulated environments was reportedly the equivalent of ‘a few drops of oil’ in a swimming pool. Even so, they caused significant problems especially to the coral reef fish exposed to them in their early life stages.
These were noted to be worse at escaping from possible predators. Or at choosing a habitat for them to live in. The fish were also observed to be traveling in smaller groups and also towards more dangerous and open waters.
“In such early life stages, if these reef fishes are exposed to oil, they’re experiencing some really dangerous cognitive difficulties,” states Dr. Rummer.
As the coral reef fish seem unable to make proper decisions, this could also lead to “their ultimate demise” according to the study co-author. Oil could be affecting the fish’s neurotransmitters function in the brain.
The study specifically looked at emperor and damselfish that typically live in tropical coral reefs. These brightly colored fish play a significant role in the reef’s survival, as they help remove algae. They are also part of the local food chain as larger fish species prey on them.
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