What's killing coral near Key West? Study points to human waste
Photos from research show the white blotches, caused by bacteria from waste, that appear on coral in the Florida Keys.
August 18th, 2011
11:01 AM ET

What's killing coral near Key West? Study points to human waste

Human feces making their way through wastewater facilities and into the ocean are passing along a white pox disease-causing bacterium that's killing Elkhorn coral near Key West, Florida, a new study says.

"These bacteria do not come from the ocean; they come from us," said James W. Porter, a University of Georgia ecology professor, adding that mankind has a responsibility to respond and save a massive area around the Florida Keys.

Porter and his colleagues say the study for the first time gives evidence of a new way of spreading diseases. Usually, bacteria are transmitted from wildlife to humans, for example, in the case of Avian flu. But here, the researchers' findings, which were published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, show that diseases can in some cases be passed on from humans and affect wildlife to the point where it causes a population decline.

When they began studying corals, researchers learned the bacterium Serratia marcescens was the cause of white pox. The bacterium is mostly associated with infections usually acquired in hospitals by newborns or immune-compromised adults. It can be responsible for a variety of infections, from meningitis to pneumonia.

"Bacteria from humans kill corals - that's the bad news," Porter said. "But the good news is that we can solve this problem with advanced wastewater treatment facilities."

Upgrades to these facilities under way in Key West are important, he said.

"This problem is not like hurricanes, which we can't control. We can do something about this one," Porter said.

The disease caused by the waste leads to white blotches on coral. The blotches appear when bacteria kills the top layer of coral tissue, exposing the white limestone skeleton of the coral.

"We are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and we've got the smoking gun to prove it," Porter said.

soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. MollyBee

    Travel to any Florida coast. Go out and take a whif when the tide is low. There is no denying that it's sh____t. The interesting thing to me is how natives just tend to ignore it.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. palintwit

    Somehow it seems very appropriate to use the words 'human feces' and 'Sarah Palin' in the same sentence.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • zhawk88

      just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? 😀

      August 18, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      *Yawn* Take you all day to write that? You should star in your own comedy show. You're awesome!!

      August 18, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      You can just as easily say Human Feces and Obamas promise of BIG CHANGE!!! But this article has nothing to do with politics? Right?

      August 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fish

    I knew I shouldn't have eaten tacos last night...

    August 18, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • zhawk88

      yeah... can we sue taco bell again? lol

      August 18, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. angrysmell

    good. the faster humans kill off other life forms on this planet, the faster humans will die off, and then life forms that aren't worthless, self-absorbed gasbags can begin to recover.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • MrHanson

      You could start with yourself.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Myron

      Then why don't you get us off to a good start and shoot yourself in the head.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Suz

      It's amazing how some of you can actually operate your computers. If you don't have anything intelligent to say, don't bother saying anything – you sound like morons.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Chris~Albany, NY

    This is not suprising @ all. I've worked in the aquarium industry for nearly 15 years and can tell you 1st hand how sensative these animals are. Such occurances are not that rare if you pay attention the the Great Barrier Reef and many other reefs around the world.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ghost Rider

    So what, I mean, who cares about the coral. Our fecal materials have to go somewhere.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • JAS

      congratulations-you win for dumbest comment on this page award

      August 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • rschier

      how about we jam them down your throat.......

      August 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Prince John

      I agree; let's put them in your house.

      August 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. justathought

    The article said this could be fixed, let's hope it can be. Hey! Look on the bright side; maybe a few more job can be cerated!

    August 18, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. another thinker?

    a note to posters: how about a few adult and well though comments on the actual subject and its serious impact, instead of the childish evasive nonesense thats posted. Our world and environment needs serious "talking and thinking" together, to get out of this mess.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chaz Tally

      Agreed.Too much shallow ego stuff,name-calling,and lack of civility.Too much watching of mindless pap on T.V?

      August 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. acro

    better start relocating your new hybrid Florida

    August 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Aubrie

    Makes you stop and think twice about snorkeling in the Keys now doesn't it???

    August 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. steeve-o

    Oh, but there's NO way we could possibly affect our planet negatively, is there? Human poop don't stink. Geez you envirowhacko left wing libtard sheeple!! Keep your enviroscience Al Gore mumbo jumbo off my Obamacare!!

    August 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JIM

    I agree with you Chrsitine. People from india are just horrible. They are destroying the world. Filthy deevils.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. moehadnas

    Yep. Those indian people are kind of sub-human animals. I agree also. I cant believe the US considers india a friendly nation. They steal our jobs and smell like the filth they are.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. That's It

    Oh Sh!t ! Now those along that area are going to have the Defecating Blues!

    August 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. moehadnas

    and now they are taking baths in the ocean and its killing off our coral reefs. those india people are just nasty.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
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