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Dolphin poo is actually saving coral reefs

Words by Smiley Team

Coral reefs are incredibly important in so many ways – but right now, they’re in danger.

Did you know most coral is made up of living animals? The structures that we know as coral are actually made up of thousands of tiny creatures called polyps. And they're also incredibly important to the environment. These polyps, living symbiotically with each other and other fish and animals around them, play an important part in helping to filter pollutants that do not dissolve from the water, through filter feeding.

Aside from that, coral reefs provide habitats for 25% of life in the ocean – that’s around one million species – and help to provide a barrier to tidal waves that can decimate entire communities. 

It's no secret that over half of coral reefs have been lost already, with scientists believing that more than 90% could be dead by 2050 if something doesn’t change. So what can we do to help protect these incredible animals?

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There are some great things already going on, such as UNEP fighting to get coral reef protection on the political agenda worldwide, and a team of scientists breeding the most resilient coral and reattaching them to reefs in the ocean. But some of coral’s biggest and best allies come from a little closer to home.

Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have found that spinner dolphin poo has special ‘reef-enhancing properties’ and, when they poo in the shallow lagoons holding threatened coral reefs, it acts as a booster for the coral.

Yes, you read that right. Dolphin poo.

Studies have shown the nitrogen that these spinner dolphins collect during their daily routine, including the food they eat and the places they go, is what gives this amazing boost to coral reefs. Nitrogen is a powerful growing agent, as any gardeners out there will know, and it is encouraging productivity and resilience in coral reefs.

"Simply by going to the toilet in the shallow atoll lagoons, these dolphins are providing a vital nutrient supply for the corals - making the strongest possible case for protecting the dolphins in order to save these reefs," said ZSL marine research fellow, Dr Tom B Letessier.

Spinner dolphins spend a lot of their day resting in shallow lagoons where coral reefs are found and, particularly in the Maldives, they are seeing wonderful improvements thanks to dolphins just doing what dolphins do best.

Maybe it’s time we take a leaf out of the spinner dolphin handbook, and get involved in protecting this incredible piece of marine life.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Give to Reef Life Foundation, and support them as they work to install coral reef habitats.

VOLUNTEER: Get involved and clean up your local beaches and coastlines, to keep pollutants out of the ocean.

SUPPORT: Donate to the Coral Reef Alliance, to help maintain and protect the coral reefs we love so much.

GET INVOLVED: Gift a reef with the Reef Life Foundation, and pay to install a new coral reef garden in the ocean.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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