It turns out to be a new species with worrying properties.

When researchers recently dropped into the water at the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, they came across an unpleasant surprise. Where previously there were colorful coral and many beautiful fish at a depth of about 12 meters, they now found huge algae mats that choked the underlying coral and had chased away the fish species that usually hung around here – such as the colorful parrotfish. Among the algae – which the researchers didn’t seem familiar to – they found nothing but the skeletons of what was once a colorful coral reef.

Identified
The observations raised a lot of questions. Because what were these algae? And where did they suddenly come from? After extensive research, researchers now think they are partly out. They write in the magazine PloS ONE that it is a new species of algae. They baptized this Chondria tumulosa .

Where exactly the algae species comes from remains unclear. “We don’t know yet,” said researcher Randall Kosaki. “Is it a native species that we have completely overlooked until it hit an atoll or was it accidentally introduced by people from another area here?”

Invasive properties
For now, the algae species is not yet classified as invasive. However, the species does have several properties that carefully indicate that it does not really belong here. The researchers noticed, for example, that parrotfish that normally feed on algae in the area ignore C. tumulosa . They prefer to eat something they normally don’t like to eat than to try the new type of algae, according to Kosaki.

Colonization
In addition, the algae species appears to have colonized the area near the atoll at lightning speed. Where researchers initially found the algae only in a few spots in the atoll, a few years later it had formed huge mats, each quickly covering more than 9,000 square meters and out-competing with the species that normally lived here.

Spread
In addition, it seems that the algae species can spread from one area to another quite easily. For example, the mats have protrusions that can easily hang behind, for example, the equipment of divers, after which pieces of the algae mat can be carried to other places. Reason enough for the researchers to clean their diving equipment exceptionally well and to ensure that no pieces of the algae mats remained, which they could then – unwittingly – reintroduce elsewhere. “Until we know whether it is an indigenous or introduced species and to better understand the drivers of this outbreak, it is important that diving researchers and research vessels not accidentally take the species to other islands,” said Kosaki. “That’s why we lowered all our gear in bleach and sprayed all our submarines with bleach before returning to Honolulu.” In addition, there are indications that the algae species can spread in the same way as tumbler. Tumbler herb spreads because a large part of the plant detaches from the roots and then tumbles away with the wind. Along the way it drops seeds, fruits or spores, from which new plants can grow. In the case of the algae species, the distribution would take place by means of the ocean currents. “The fact that you have such a lump of biomass that can be moved by oceanographic conditions is worrying,” says researcher Alison Sherwood. “In addition, there are indications that the algae species can spread like tumbler. Tumbler herb spreads because a large part of the plant detaches from the roots and then tumbles away with the wind. Along the way it drops seeds, fruits or spores, from which new plants can grow. In the case of the algae species, the distribution would take place by means of the ocean currents. “The fact that you have such a lump of biomass that can be moved by oceanographic conditions is worrying,” says researcher Alison Sherwood. “In addition, there are indications that the algae species can spread like tumbler. Tumbler herb spreads because a large part of the plant detaches from the roots and then tumbles away with the wind. Along the way it drops seeds, fruits or spores, from which new plants can grow. In the case of the algae species, the distribution would take place by means of the ocean currents. “The fact that you have such a lump of biomass that can be moved by oceanographic conditions is worrying,” says researcher Alison Sherwood. from which new plants can grow. In the case of the algae species, the distribution would take place by means of the ocean currents. “The fact that you have such a lump of biomass that can be moved by oceanographic conditions is worrying,” says researcher Alison Sherwood. from which new plants can grow. In the case of the algae species, the distribution would take place by means of the ocean currents. “The fact that you have such a lump of biomass that can be moved by oceanographic conditions is worrying,” said researcher Alison Sherwood.

Follow-up
research Researchers keep a close eye on the species anyway. Because it is precisely at the Pearl and Hermes Atoll – part of the protected Marine National MonumentPapahānaumokuākea – grabbing around is worrying. “This is happening in the heart of one of the largest marine protected areas in the world,” said Kosaki. If it is actually an invasive algae species, Kosaki will hold its heart. Because if such a species can colonize the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, it can certainly do so elsewhere. “It (the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, ed.) Is very remote. There is almost no shipping and so invasive species can hardly be introduced here in the traditional ways (…) If this can happen here it can happen anywhere and the probability of it happening in a crowded area like Honolulu is 1000 times larger than near the Pearl and Hermes Atoll. ” It would be a disaster. Not only for the beautiful coral there,

Why the algae – whether they belong here or not – thrive so well at the Pearl and Hermes Atoll is unclear. Follow-up research must show that. And perhaps it offers handles for the control of the algae species. Because if we know under what conditions these thrive, we may be able to change those conditions slightly, giving the species originally found in these areas a chance.

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