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Kingman Reef: Black Reef vs. Pristine Reef (photos: Gareth Williams and Jim Maragos)

Imagine turquoise waters teeming with vibrant corals, colorful fish, graceful turtles, and menacing sharks. Now imagine cloudy ocean waters crowded with dark red and black algae and bacteria, devoid of wildlife. Unfortunately, the latter is happening in some of our nation’s reefs.

Many of our world’s coral reefs are in trouble. Now, a group of scientists are bringing to light yet another threat to some of our nation’s most pristine coral reefs in their newly released paper “Black Reefs.”

The islands studied are part of a chain of eleven islands (called the Line Islands) and are located in iron-poor regions of the central Pacific Ocean. However, a number of ship groundings have occurred on these coral islands and have unnaturally introduced iron to the environment. As detailed in the scientific paper, the introduced iron from the degrading vessels has caused the coral reefs to be overtaken and killed by harmful algae and bacteria.

Two of the devastated reefs are located in one of our nation’s national monuments – the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument composed of National Wildlife Refuges. At least 250 acres of coral habitat have been destroyed so far, and scientists report that the destruction continues at a rapid pace.

In order to stop the destruction, the authors of the paper recommend that the shipwrecks be removed immediately. As the primary caretaker of these particular reefs, the Department of the Interior’s US Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for removing them.

The wrecks’ continued presence threatens the health of some of the world’s most beautiful reefs. Spread the word!