Caldeira Lab

Potential Influence of Sea Cucumbers On Coral Reef CaCO3 Budget: A case study at One Tree Reef

Kenneth Schneider, Jacob Silverman, Erika Woolsey, Hampus Eriksson, Maria Byrne & Ken Caldeira

Corals require CaCO3 to build their reefs. Sea cucumbers are deposit feeders that dissolve CaCO3 as part of their digestive process. In this study, we find that sea cucumbers are responsible for a large part of the dissolution of CaCO3, making them important in the turnover of CaCO3, as well as reducing the impact of ocean acidification on corals.

Schneider, K., J. Silverman, E. Woolsey, H. Eriksson, M. Byrne, and K. Caldeira, 2011: Potential influence of sea cucumbers on coral reef CaCO 3 budget: A case study at One Tree Reef. Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, doi:10.1029/2011JG001755.

Kenny Schneider - click to read the video transcript




To endure, coral reefs must accumulate CaCO3 at a rate greater or equal than the sum of mechanically, biologically, and chemically mediated erosion rates. We investigated the potential role of holothurians on the CaCO3 balance of a coral reef. These deposit feeders process carbonate sand and rubble through their digestive tract and dissolve CaCO3 as part of their digestive process. In aquarium incubations with Stichopus herrmanni and Holothuria leucospilota total alkalinity increased by 97±13 and 47±7 mmol kg-1, respectively. This increase was due to CaCO3 dissolution, 81±13 and 34±6 mmol kg-1 and ammonia secretion, 16±2 and 14±2mmol kg-1, respectively, for these species. Surveys conducted at a long-term monitoring site of community calcification (DK13) on One Tree Reef indicated that the density of sea cucumbers was approximately 1 individual m-2. We used these data and data from surveys at Shark Alley to estimate the dissolution of CaCO3 by the sea cucumbers at both sites. At DK13 the sea cucumber population was estimated to be responsible for nearly 50% of the nighttime CaCO3 dissolution, while in Shark Alley for most of the nighttime dissolution. Thus, in a healthy reef, bioeroders dissolution of CaCO3 sediment appears to be an important component of the natural CaCO3 turnover and a substantial source of alkalinity as well. This additional alkalinity could partially buffer changes in seawater pH associated with increasing atmospheric CO2 locally, thus reducing the impact of ocean acidification on coral growth.