Marine pollution and coral reefs

Zvy Dubinsky, Noga Stambler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Coral reefs are exposed to many anthropogenic stresses increasing in impact and range, both on local and regional scales. The main ones discussed here are nutrient enrichment, sewage disposal, sedimentation, oil-related pollution, metals and thermal pollution. The stress comprising the main topic of this article, eutrophication, is examined from the point of view of its physiological and ecological mechanisms of action, on a number of levels. Nutrient enrichment can introduce an imbalance in the exchange of nutrients between the zooxanthellae and the host coral, it reduces light penetration to the reef due to nutrient- stimulated phytoplankton growth, and, most harmful of all, may bring about proliferation of seaweeds. The latter rapidly outgrow, smother and eventually replace, the slow-growing coral reef, adapted to cope with the low nutrient concentrations typical in tropical seas. Eutrophication seldom takes place by itself. Sewage disposal invariably results in nutrient enrichment, but it also enriches the water with organic matter which stimulates proliferation of oxygen-consuming microbes. These may kill corals and other reef organisms, either directly by anoxia, or by related hydrogen sulfide production. Increased sediment deposition is in many cases associated with other human activities leading to eutrophication, such as deforestation and topsoil erosion. Realistically achievable goals to ensure conservation, and in some instances, rehabilitation of coral reefs are listed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-526
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Coral reefs
  • Eutrophication
  • Pollution
  • Sedimentation
  • Sewage
  • Zooxanthellae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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