Widespread skin cancer has been identified for the first time in wild marine fish populations, new research has shown.
A collaborative study between Newcastle University, UK, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science published today in the academic journal PLoS ONE - reveals the incidence of melanoma in the coral trout, a species found on the Great Barrier Reef and directly beneath the world's largest hole in the ozone layer.
This is the first time skin cancer has been diagnosed in wild fish populations and the team, led by Newcastle University's Dr Michael Sweet, say the appearance of the melanoma is almost identical to that found in humans.
"Further work needs to be carried out to establish the exact cause of the cancer but having eliminated other likely factors such as microbial pathogens and marine pollution, UV radiation appears to be the likely cause," explains Dr Sweet.
"Studying disease in wild fish populations is very time-consuming and costly so it's hard to say how long the disease has been around. However, what we do know is that it is now widespread in the coral trout population effecting three different species of this type of fish and we would not be surprised to find it in other species as well."
The study, which involved experts from Newcastle University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University, Australia, looked at Plectropomus leopardus, otherwise known as the common coral trout.
The coral trout is an iconic and highly valued species that occurs throughout the western Pacific and in Australia supports a high-value fishery on the Great Barrier Reef.
Diseased fish were caught in two locations in the southern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Heron Island and One Tree Island but its occurrence throughout the rest of its range is currently unknown. Anecdotal evidence suggests minimal occurrence in other regions of the GBR and in other coral trout species, but further research is
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