It’s a real enigma: Humans aren’t the only thing that’s killing coral–a certain variety of seaweed is doing the same thing, in a battle beneath the sea. Scientists for the first time have identified and mapped the chemical structure of molecules used by certain species of marine seaweed to kill or inhibit the growth of reef-building coral.

Chemicals found on the surfaces of several species of seaweed have been shown to harm coral, suggesting that competition between these species could be a factor in the worldwide decline–and lack of recovery– of coral reefs.

And as usual, it’s all our fault. Seaweed growth on coral reefs is normally controlled by plant-eating fish, but in many parts of the world, overfishing has dramatically reduced populations of these consumers, allowing the seaweed to dominate.

Biologist Mark Hay says, "Though some corals are more resistant than others, what we have shown is that these seaweeds are generally bad for corals. At some level, these seaweed molecules can definitely kill the corals. It is difficult for juvenile corals to colonize and grow through a chemically-toxic layer of seaweed."

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