Seaweed eating crabs could save the world’s coral reefs, researchers find

A new study shows that seaweed-eating king crabs could help save the threatened coral reefs of the world, by removing excess seaweed, keeping the growth of the plant under control.

A new study conducted off the coasts of Florida shows that the Caribbean king crab is the most efficient at cleanly consuming seaweed that threatens to overgrow coral reefs. When the researchers introduced these crabs to plots of seaweed on coral reefs, it was found that these crabs reduced the seaweed cover by 50%.

Artificial boosting of this particular species of crab could help combat unwanted seaweed growth, helping restore the coral reefs to their original glory. It has been previously predicted that the coral reefs of the world will be extinct by the year 2100.

Corals are threatened by human behavior that has caused the warming of water. This has lead to a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, which has led to an increase in acidic water, more pollution, disease, and more.

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“The fleshy macroalgae (seaweeds) that occur on coral reefs have several negative effects on corals when the seaweeds are too abundant,” Professor Mark Butler told MailOnline. “Those effects include taking up space on the reef that doesn’t allow new larval corals to settle and get established.”

Coral is also affected by seaweed as these outgrowths shade the coral from natural light, not allowing the coral’s symbiotic algal cells to get the light they need to survive. The reproduction of coral is also affected by the chemicals that seaweed releases. These chemicals also make seaweed more susceptible to disease.

If done correctly, the breeding of this particular species of crab will help delay, maybe even avoid, the destruction of one of the most beautiful places in the ocean—the coral reefs.

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