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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 536:163-173 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11437

Crude oil contamination interrupts settlement of coral larvae after direct exposure ends

Aaron C. Hartmann1,*, Stuart A. Sandin1, Valérie F. Chamberland2,3, Kristen L. Marhaver2,4, Jasper M. de Goeij5, Mark J. A. Vermeij2,3

1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA
2Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity (CARMABI) Foundation, Piscaderabaai z/n, Willemstad, Curaçao
3Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
4University of California Merced, Merced, CA 95343, USA
5Aquatic Environmental Ecology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Oil spills cause damage to marine wildlife that lasts well past their immediate aftermath. Marine offspring that must settle and metamorphose to reach adulthood may be particularly prone to harm if the legacy of oil exposure interrupts later transitions across life stages. Following an oil spill on Curaçao, we found that oil-contaminated seawater reduced settlement of 2 coral species by 85% and 40% after exposure had ended. The effect of contamination on settlement was more severe than any direct or latent effects on survival. Therefore, oil exposure reduces the ability of corals to transition to their adult life stage, even after they move away from oil contamination. This interruption of the life cycle likely has severe consequences for recruitment success in these foundational and threatened organisms. Latent, sublethal, and behavioral effects on marine organisms—as shown in this study—are not commonly considered during oil-spill impact assessments, increasing the likelihood that harm to marine species goes underestimated or unmeasured.


KEY WORDS: Oil spills · Coral reefs · Larval settlement · Carry-over effects · Latent effects · Orbicella faveolata · Agaricia humilis · Caribbean


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Cite this article as: Hartmann AC, Sandin SA, Chamberland VF, Marhaver KL, de Goeij JM, Vermeij MJA (2015) Crude oil contamination interrupts settlement of coral larvae after direct exposure ends. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 536:163-173. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11437

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