Published online 4 June 2008 | Nature 453, 710-711 (2008) | doi:10.1038/453710c

News in Brief

Indian coral islands under threat from algae

The alga Kappaphycus alvarezii is choking coral.The alga Kappaphycus alvarezii is choking coral.S. CHANDRASEKARAN/THIAGARAJAR COLL.

A dispute about non-native algae has broken out in India between beverage giant PepsiCo and the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), which is based in Bhavnagar, Gujarat.

Institute researchers originally imported the alga Kappaphycus alvarezii for research; in 2001 PepsiCo began cultivating it for the food thickener carrageenan in the Gulf of Mannar marine bioreserve, along India's southeastern coast. Reporting in Current Science last month, scientists from Thiagarajar College in Madurai say that corals fringing an island in the gulf are being smothered to death by the algae.

The CSMCRI suspects that the algae drifted into protected waters from PepsiCo's cultivation sites, whereas PepsiCo says the more likely source is the institute's seaweed depot on the island. According to CSMCRI, that depot was closed down in 2003.

Ecologists are worried that K. alvarezii, which is currently spreading asexually, could switch to sexual reproduction by spores. These could be carried by wind to the remaining 20 coral-fringed islands in the bioreserve. 

Commenting is now closed.