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closedBig trouble in the deep blue sea
POSTED 4 MARCH 1999. In Florida, new disease with medieval names like black band disease, white plague and white pox are devastating corals. Reefs, a bedrock of marine biodiversity, have been silently suffering for years -- only more slowly. A new study by James Porter of the University of Georgia found a 446 percent increase in the number of diseased sites -- and a 244 percent increase in the number of sick coral species -- between just 1996 and 1998.

Another threat to ocean ecosystems and coastal economies is the rise of invasive exotic species. On the Pacific Coast, European green crabs are on an underwater march toward Puget Sound, where they threaten productive shellfish beds. The crabs are soldiers in an army of aquatic intrusions that earlier brought the disastrous zebra mussel to the Great Lakes.

In North Carolina, fish, fishing people and scientists alike are being stricken by nerve diseases caused by "red tide" algae. scallopThe algal toxin undermines the ability of fish and shellfish to protect themselves. It makes people confused and forgetful, and can cause month-long headaches.

It's not just new maladies that are plaguing the ocean. Old diseases like cholera are responding to the warmer sea temperatures and rising sea levels of global warming.

Feeling crabby
The great blue ocean. A healing, healthy cloak on our watery planet. A limitless resource that's immune to human destruction.

That's not quite the picture we took away from 1999 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim, Calif., this January. Before you read this Why File on emerging oceanic hazards, read this caution: Swimming and surfing may never be the same.

Packing for the beach? Where disease-causing viruses are concerned, "flush and forget" is not the safest solution...

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The Why Files Staff includes: Terry Devitt, editor; Darrell Schulte, webmaster; David Tenenbaum, feature writer