Caribbean elkhorn coral used to be one of the most plentiful corals in the Caribbean and Florida Keys. But over the past 15 years, it has declined by about 90 percent and is now considered an endangered species. Scientists weren't quite sure exactly what was to blame until now. It's your poop.
The Caribbean elkhorn's decline is in part tied to a disease called white pox, which is caused by a common fecal intestinal bacteria found in the digestive systems of humans and other animals. Scientists weren't sure exactly how the bacteria got from the digestive system into the water, and whether the source was from humans or animals.
PBS reports scientists have discovered that only the strain of the bacteria found in humans is responsible for killing the coral.
And when the coral dies from your poop, it's not pretty.
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"You could smell the coral's response," Kathryn Sutherland of Rollins College, the study's lead author, told PBS. "It was releasing mucous like crazy, it was changing the clarity of the water, and it was giving off a distinct smell."
The bacteria might have found its way into the ocean by way of septic tanks in the Florida Keys. Septic tanks tend to leak, and when they do so in the Keys, they seep through porous limestone and easily leak into the ocean without much filtration. Caribbean islands might have even less sophisticated waste disposal systems.
Which means not only is the fact that human waste seeping into the Caribbean at massive rates is pretty gross, but also it's a downright killer.