Academic journal article Science and Children

Oil Puts Coral Reef Fish in Danger

Academic journal article Science and Children

Oil Puts Coral Reef Fish in Danger

Article excerpt

A few drops of oil can cause coral reef fish to make poor decisions, according to a new study.

Scientists have discovered that oil impacts the higher-order thinking of coral reef fish in a way that could prove dangerous for them and for the coral reefs where they make their home. Examining six different species of coral reef fish, the scientists found that exposure to oil consistently affected behavior in ways that put the fish at risk.

Coral reef fish are especially vulnerable when they go through their juvenile stages of development. Even in healthy populations of reef fish, typically less than 10% of embryos and larvae reach adulthood. Those who survive must learn to identify friend from foe and adopt protective behaviors, such as traveling in groups, minimizing movement in open waters, and swimming away quickly from danger. In experiments, the scientists found that juvenile fish exposed to oil struggled on all these counts.

"In several different experiments, the fish exposed to oil exhibited very risky behavior, even in the presence of a predator," says Andrew Esbaugh, an assistant professor of marine science.

The scientists also found that oil exposure negatively affected the fishes' growth, survival, and settlement behaviors (their ability to find a suitable habitat).

Oil concentrations are found in oceans worldwide, but until now little has been known about the effect of oil exposure on coral reef fish. …

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