Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Casey Ganley connects WRE to the growing concern of coral health and longevity with respect to increasing levels of pollutants found in sewage discharge.

This article is taken from ScienceDaily.com, entitled “Large study shows pollution impact on coral reefs, and offers solution“, published on November 26, 2013. The WRE issue in this article is the increasing levels of pollution being released in our oceans are having drastic impacts on coral health. The article details a study conducted by Oregon State University between 2009 and 2012 in which they exposed 1200 acres of shallow water reefs in the Florida Keys to commonly found levels of pollutants in human waste and sewage runoff. They found that the coral has a negative reaction to the pollutants (Nitrogen and Phosphorus mainly), and diseases like black-spot syndrome and coral bleaching occur prolifically. However, the study yielded some surprisingly positive results as well. The researchers found that the coral communities will re-populate the reefs and return to health within a 10 month period if the pollutant levels are decreased. While natural reefs are influenced by numerous other factors including ocean acidification, temperature fluctuation, and photosynthetic activity, the test reefs reacted strongly to reduced pollution levels. This is a sign that reduced levels of pollution levels will help restore the loss of coral reefs worldwide. It is not a single solution, but proves that coral are sensitive to sewage runoff fluctuations. From personal experience, this study and it’s published results are credible. The article was supported by the National Science Foundation and Florida International University, as well as being published in Global Change Biology, a journal on environmental diversity and conservation. Some information that could have been included that was not is what individual types of coral were effected positively/negatively and what methods were used to artificially subject the reefs to nutrient loading. These pieces of information would help boost credibility, but more important, result replication and setup duplication.

Before and After photos of healthy vs. bleached coral

Before and After photos of healthy vs. bleached coral

This WRE issue is a global environmental issue. While the individual test was conducted in the US, coral reefs are found all over the world. The Great Barrier Reef located in Queensland, Australia, is the largest reef in the world. Coral reefs provide habitat and shelter to thousands of micro-organisms and marine life. They are the most diversity rich ecosystems on Earth, and are under fierce stress worldwide. The global issue applies to all coastal coral reef systems on Earth. As sated previously, this article and its findings were published in a journal called Global Change Biology. This publication, “Exists to promote understanding of the interface between all aspects of current environmental change that affects a substantial part of the globe and biological systems” (GCB, 2014). In terms of cause and effect relationships between the WRE issue and the global environmental impact it has, coral reef health has a direct relationship to environmental health around the globe. Reefs serve as homes for the base of the marine food chain, and the hierarchical food chain relies 100% on having a solid base level. Coral reef health is indicative of overall oceanic conditions, and without a solid marine base, oceans are susceptible to further degradation.


Works Cited

-Long, Steve. “Global Change Biology.” 20. 2014.