The use of δ15N in assessing sewage stress on coral reefs
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While coral reefs decline, scientists argue, and effective strategies to manage land-based pollution lag behind the extent of the problem. There is need for objective, cost-effective, assessment methods. The measurement of stable nitrogen isotope ratios, delta(15)N, in tissues of reef organisms shows promise as an indicator of sewage stress. The choice of target organism will depend upon study purpose, availability, and other considerations such as conservation. Algae are usually plentiful and have been shown faithfully to track sewage input. The organic matrix of bivalve shells can provide time series spanning, perhaps, decades. Gorgonians have been shown to track sewage, and can provide records potentially centuries-long. In areas where baseline data are lacking, which is almost everywhere, delta(15)N in gorgonians can provide information on status and trends. In coral tissue, delta(15)N combined with insoluble residue determination can provide information on both sewage and sediment stress in areas lacking baseline data. In the developed world, delta(15)N provides objective assessment in a field complicated by conflicting opinions. Sample handling and processing are simple and analysis costs are low. This is a method deserving widespread application.
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