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The effects of petroleum pollutants on sea urchins reproduction and development

Grant Winners

  • Nicole D. Fogarty Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center
  • Pat Blackwelder, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center
  • Kellie Pelikan – Oceanographic Center


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center


Award Winners

Coral reefs are known for their high biodiversity and their substantial economic value through tourism, shoreline protection, and fisheries. In recent decades coral reefs have become severely degraded with over 80% loss in coral cover in the Caribbean. Factors that have led to the decline in coral reefs are disease, overfishing, global climate change, disturbance, loss of important herbivores, and pollution. The impact of the loss of herbivores on coral reefs was exemplified in the early 1980's with the mass mortality (>95%) of the sea urchin, Diadema antillarum. After the die-off of this important herbivore, macroalgae quickly began overtaking coral reefs, thus competing with adult corals and preventing juvenile corals from recruiting. This, combined with other factors listed above, led to a phase shift from coral dominated reefs to macroalgal domination. The pathogen that killed the sea urchins is unknown, yet this examples illustrates the vulnerability of sea urchins, and how their loss can have devastating consequences to coral reefs. Recent mass polluting events, such as the Deep Horizon accident, has led many researchers to examine the effects of oil and dispersants on corals. However, being overlooked is the daily occurrence of oil and gas input into our marine environment through vessel bilge water discharge and the effect of these pollutants on important reef dwelling creatures, such as sea urchins. This study will explore the effects of petroleum pollutants associated with bilge water over a range of concentrations on the reproduction and development of two coral reef inhabiting sea urchin species, Tripneustes ventricosus and Lytechinus variegatus.

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