Comparative sensitivity of the early life stages of a coral to heavy fuel oil and UV radiation

F. Mikaela Nordborg, Diane L. Brinkman, Gerard F. Ricardo, Susana Agusti, Andrew P. Negri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


During an oil spill, shallow, tropical coral reefs are likely to be simultaneously exposed to high intensities of ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can exacerbate the toxicity of petroleum oils. While successful recruitment of corals is critical for reef recovery following disturbances, the sensitivity of several early life stages of coral to petroleum hydrocarbons has not been investigated, particularly for UVR co-exposure. Here we present the first dataset on the relative sensitivity of three early life stages (gametes, embryos and planula larvae) in a model broadcast spawning coral species, Acropora millepora, to the dissolved fraction of a heavy fuel oil (HFO), both in the absence and presence of UVR. All early life stages were negatively impacted by HFO exposure but exhibited distinct sensitivities. Larval metamorphosis was the most sensitive endpoint assessed with a 10% effect concentration of 34 μg L−1 total aromatic hydrocarbons (TAH) in the absence of UVR. The impact on fertilisation success was highly dependent on sperm density, while the fragmentation of embryos masked embryo mortality. Larval metamorphosis was conclusively the most reliable endpoint for use in risk assessments of the endpoints investigated. Putative critical target lipid body burdens (CTLBBs) were calculated for each life stages, enabling a comparison of their sensitivities against species in the Target Lipid Model (TLM) database. A. millepora had a putative CTLBB of 4.4 μmol g−1 octanol for larval metamorphosis, indicating it is more sensitive than any species currently included in the TLM database. Coexposure to UVR reduced toxicity thresholds by 1.3-fold on average across the investigated life stages and endpoints. This increase in sensitivity in the presence of UVR highlights the need to incorporate UVR co-exposure (where ecologically relevant) when assessing oil toxicity thresholds, otherwise the risks posed by oil spills to shallow coral reefs are likely to be underestimated.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146676
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 23 2021


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