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Oceans Past: A Guide to Oceans Future
Date:1/14/2008

for diseases which contributed to the start of major ecosystem destruction, says Loren McClenachan.

Functioning as living water filters, marine sponges do their job better than any other animal in the ocean. They have perfected the art of water filtration; tropical sponges can remove over 90 per cent of the bacteria present in the water and can cycle through up to 20,000 times their own volume in a 24-hour period. However, animals attached to the ocean floor, such as sponges and oysters, are vulnerable because of their immobility and irreplaceable in their ecological role.

At its peak, the fishery in the northern Caribbean removed 47 million pounds (lbs.) of live sponge annually, and over-fishing was evident in both quantitative and qualitative descriptions of the fishery in Florida. Social conflict, intensified by an increasingly overfished resource, characterized the Florida sponge fishery during the early 20th century. Violent confrontations on the waterfront escalated with angry spongers even resorting to arson. In 1918, Key West spongers set fire to a Greek sponging vessel, the first of four craft to be mysteriously destroyed in the Keys. A schooner burned to the waters edge in 1923 and Greek spongers were warned in the local newspaper to leave the Keys completely.

As Loren McClenachan explains, despite efforts on the part of the Key West fishermen to limit the activity of divers, high levels of fishing continued. Over-fishing and scarcity fueled fighting among sponge fishermen, and the same over-fishing contributed to the rapid spread of disease throughout the region. When the first signs of disease appeared in 1938, the sponge population was severely stressed from over-fishing and few reserve populations remained. This disease ultimately reduced the remaining commercial sponge populations by up to 99%.

In December 1938, the first signs of diseases in the sponges showed up and it spread to epidemic proportions. At the
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Contact: Kira Paulli Pravato
kpp@ruc.dk
452-461-4096
Census of Marine Life
Source:Eurekalert  

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