There may be a solution to coral reefs dying, thanks to dolphin poo! In the Maldives lives a small dolphin that goes by the name of spinner dolphin. This particular type of dolphin is known for being acrobatic and highly intelligent, and are typically 129–235 cm long and up to 79 kg in weight. These smart cetaceans can spin their bodies in the air, making as many as seven rotations at a time. And now they can add special excrement to their skillset.
Spinner dolphins spend their days in shallow lagoons in the ocean around the Maldives and Chagos archipelagoes. In the morning the dolphins enter the lagoons for a day-time rest, and exit in the afternoon. During this period of rest and relaxation, the dolphins deposit large amounts of nitrogen-rich poop. Researchers who observed the dolphins estimated that one pod excreted around 288kg (635 lbs) of nitrogen in one year alone.
Essential nutrients for coral reefs
“It’s exciting to have found a likely important mechanism by which the dolphin’s behaviour could be sustaining the health of surrounding reefs,” says lead author of the study, Dr Tom B Letessier from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for coral reef. Its role is to ‘enhance coral reef productivity and resilience’ according to the study. Coral reef needs all the help it can get. Due to a myriad of factors, including climate change, overfishing, and pollution, coral reefs are dying. The Status of the Coral Reefs of the World report of 2020 states that between 2009 and 2018 14 percent of the world’s coral reef was lost.
When coral reefs are under threat from climate change, pollution, overfishing and other environmental aspects they turn white, as the algae that lives within the coral is expelled. This is referred to as coral bleaching. If the temperature inside the coral stays too high, the coral will not let the algae back in, and the coral will die. This is why nitrogen is so important to reefs- the algae feed on this.
“Coral reefs are facing profound threats around the world, including climate change and biodiversity loss, but this research has identified a clear ally for them: spinner dolphins,” Letessier says.
Dolphins aren’t the only marine mammals helping the environment with their waste either. Whale poop is also helping to negate the effects of climate change.