Impacts of a shallow shipwreck on a coral reef: a case study from St. Brandon's Atoll, Mauritius, Indian Ocean

25 March 2020

Shallow shipwrecks, can have severe ecological and toxicological impacts on coral atolls. In 2012, a tuna longliner ran aground on the reef crest of St Brandon's Atoll, Mauritius, broke up into three pieces which was moved by currents and storms into the lagoon. In the months following the grounding, the coral around the wreck became dead and black. Down-current from the wreck, a dense bloom of filamentous algae (Ulva sp.) attached to coral occurred. To determine the ecological effects of the wreck on the system, the marine biota around the wreck, in the algal bloom, and fish reference zones were counted in 2014. Metal concentrations in reference and affected coral was determined using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP/MS). A pronounced difference was seen in the metal concentration pattern between coral from the wreck- and algal zones, and the coral reference zone. While the wreck zone contained the highest abundance of fish, the fish reference zone had the highest species diversity but with fewer fish. We also counted eleven Critically Endangered hawksbill sea turtles Eretmochelys imbricata and significantly more sea cucumbers in the algal zone than the reference zones. The effects of shipwrecks on coral reefs must be considered a threat over periods of years and should be studied further