- ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Previously unknown bacteria and viruses blooming
in the Earth's warming oceans are killing some marine life and threatening
human health, researchers say.
- There are increasing reports of dying
coral, diseased shellfish and waters infected with human viruses as the
seas rise in temperature and pollution from the land intensifies, researchers
said Friday in studies presented at the national meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science.
- "These are the cries and whispers
beginning to confront us about the ecological dangers ahead," said
James Porter, an ocean studies specialist at the University of Georgia.
"We are finding disturbing new kinds of things." About 10 per
cent of the coral worldwide has died, said Porter, and if present trends
and conditions continue, another 20 to 30 per cent of the coral could be
- In many cases, he said, the pathogens
-- viruses, bacteria and fungi -- killing the coral had not been previously
identified by researchers. "Corals are like the canary in the mine,"
said Porter. "They are telling us that the water where they live is
becoming suboptimal for their existence."
- There has been a 446 per cent increase
in disease at 160 coral sites being monitored along the Florida coast since
1996. One reef experienced a death rate of 62 per cent, said Porter, and
nearly all of the killing pathogens "are new to science."
- "We don't know if what we are seeing
is a natural cycle or it is being caused by what human beings are doing
to the planet," he said. Porter said the loss of coral is significant
because the reef-building animal "is the basis for the health of the
- New studies show that vast colonies of
human viruses migrate regularly into coastal waters of Florida from the
1.6 million septic tanks in the state, said Joan Rose, a University of
South Florida researcher.
- Many people are becoming infected with
viruses picked up while swimming, windsurfing or boating in infected waters.
One study found that almost a quarter of the people using marine beaches
develop ear infections, sore throats and eyes, respiratory or gastrointestinal
- Some of the viruses detected in coastal
waters are linked with heart disease, diabetes, meningitis and hepatitis.
- "Most people who come in contact
with these viruses do not get ill," she said. But of the 20 to 24
per cent who do, about one per cent become chronically infected, she said.
- Rose's research team has traced the migration
of viruses from septic tanks and found that the pathogens infect coastal
waters within 24 hours of being flushed down toilets. Storms that churn
the waters and set up currents can speed the process and cause an even
- Viruses have been detected in oysters
and other shellfish in many coastal areas outside of Florida. For instance,
some sampling in New York waters has found 40 per cent of the shellfish
- Wounds infected with waterborne viruses
caused two deaths and five hospitalizations in 1995 along the Mississippi
coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Rose said. And more than a third of water
samples from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii were found in one study to be infected
with human viruses.
- Many of the disease-causing viruses that
infect humans directly or through eating contaminated shellfish cannot
be detected by the routine monitoring of water pollution, said Rose.
- Porter said the increase in pathogens
in the world's oceans may be linked to a rises in sea surface temperature
detected in many areas. He blamed the warming oceans, for instance, for
"a very distinctive global pattern of coral bleaching."
- The warmer water kills algae living on
the coral, weakening the coral and making it more susceptible to infection.