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"Reef-Furbish" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Using underwater video cameras to record fish feeding on South Pacific coral reefs, Georgia Tech scientists found that fish can be picky eaters--a trait that could spell trouble for endangered reef systems.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Coral cam.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: underwater sound) A group of submerged video cameras off the Fiji Islands--focused on reef activity--fish, feeding on reef-harming seaweed. Part of a Georgia Tech study that examines the picky eating habits of these reef sweepers.

The team placed samples of seven species of harmful seaweed in several healthy reef areas and turned on their cameras to see who ate what. (Sound effect: cartoon fish chomps) They tracked every bite from every fish.

(Hay sound bite) "The seaweeds have evolved different defenses against these herbivores&and they work against many of them but not all of them, because of the chemicals that the seaweeds make."

That's Georgia Tech marine ecologist Mark Hay. His team found it took four species of fish to be able to eat all seven kinds of seaweed. So the loss of any one of those species through overfishing could be devastating to the reefs.

The study also compared Fiji's marine-protected reefs to reefs where fishing is allowed.

In the protected areas:

(Hay sound bite) "You have about 40 to 60-percent cover of live coral, and one to two percent cover of seaweed."

In the fished areas:

(Hay sound bite) "It's shifted to being sort of a seaweed-covered parking lot with very few other species there.

But through careful management--with the right fish and the right amount of fishing--Hay says that coral reefs can remain sustainable reef food systems. And that in time damaged reefs can recover. Would that be a "reef-furbish?"

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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