L. Shimek, Ph. D.
Lafferty, K. D., J. W. Porter, and S.
E. Ford. 2004. Are Diseases Increasing In The Ocean? Annual
Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 35: 31-54.
Many factors (climate warming, pollution,
harvesting, introduced species) can contribute to disease
outbreaks in marine life. Concomitant increases in each of
these makes it difficult to attribute recent changes in disease
occurrence or severity to any one factor. For example, the
increase in disease of Caribbean coral is postulated to be
a result of climate change and introduction of terrestrial
pathogens. Indirect evidence exists that (a) warming
increased disease in turtles; (b) protection, pollution,
and terrestrial pathogens increased mammal disease; (c)
aquaculture increased disease in mollusks; and (d)
release from overfished predators increased sea urchin disease.
In contrast, fishing and pollution may have reduced disease
in fishes. In other taxa (e.g., sea grasses, crustaceans,
sharks), there is little evidence that disease has changed
over time. The diversity of patterns suggests there are many
ways that environmental change can interact with disease in
In this review article the authors bring
together many examples of diseases found in marine organisms.
A large proportion of their examples focus on coral reefs
and coral reef organisms. We are often made aware of the many
direct ways in which human activities negatively influence
coral reefs. The authors have collected enough information
to indicate that some of the more subtle human impacts are
no less severe. Additionally, however, they also discuss examples
of diseases of marine organisms that apparently are caused
by natural pathogens whose affects on marine life have no
relationship to mankind whatsoever. The study of diseases
of marine organisms is relatively new and this article provides
a fascinating look at a world of diseases and their effects
that is just opening up to us.