King Crabs Can Save Florida’s Coral Reefs

Synthia Stark

Photo by Kai Dahms on Unsplash

Researchers in the Florida Keys have identified that Florida’s coral reefs, who are often subject to the dark forces of invasive seaweed, can be saved through the help of a special giant crab affectionately called the “reef goat.”

What Happened in the Study? 

These researchers, affiliated with the Florida International University determined that these “reef goats”, alternatively called the Caribbean king crab, can eat and munch their way through lots of seaweed. In the process, the crabs are saving the corals from the evil clutches of seaweed.

Furthermore, the rate at which the crabs munch the seaweed is much faster than the usual process it takes for people to physically remove this seaweed by hand and even machinery.

Plus, there has been a massive increase in the number of corals being produced lately, resulting in more invasive seaweed trying to attack it, who often like to attach themselves to the coral reef, and never let go. by LI FEI on Unsplash

Why Do We Care? 

A lot of people don’t realize this, but marine habitats are really important. Healthy coral reefs and healthy seaweed meadows ensure that the health of the ocean is optimal. We use the ocean and some people do enjoy playing in them, so it’s best to take care of it, especially when it’s in our area. 

Let’s think about lions for a second. Yes, lions are scary but lions are also helpful. If there are way too many deer out there, lions might prey on the sick and diseased deer, ensuring balance in the animal kingdom. However, this same lion would not be helpful if they suddenly decided to hunt in public places, like the street.

Similarly, seaweed is pretty important in the ocean, but like this theoretical lion, is in the wrong place at the wrong time. This type of invasive seaweed sticks to the coral reefs. This causes the coral reefs to not be able to function or get the nutrients that it needs. 

It seems that seaweed and corals are brutal enemies, and they have been in competition with one another for many years now. This competition really sparked in the past 100 years when people overfished, causing newfound situations where coral reefs can get random diseases. Some people also attribute this unusual rivalry towards climate change as well. by Juanma Clemente-Alloza on Unsplash

If the coral reefs are weak and depleted, then it is harder for them to compete against seaweed, especially if the seaweed is getting fiercer and stronger. If the seaweed gets its way, it blocks sunlight from the baby corals and the baby corals are unable to produce more corals. In the end, the corals get a higher chance of disease. 

According to this research study, the researchers hypothesized and theorized that if the king crab is distributed, eventually the coral reefs would stand a chance against the seaweed.

I mean, the king crab is one of the largest crabs ever, is a herbivore (it only eats plants), and likes to help clean the corals because of its big appetite. From the sounds of it, these crabs would save the corals by eating away the seaweed for themselves.

The researchers got to work where they released some reef goats on some coral reefs while other coral reefs did not receive this fancy treatment. It’s pretty cool to think that king crabs, something that most people eat, could play such a huge role in the oceanic ecosystem, but it seems that they would eat just about anything, including most algae, and eat a lot of it. by Jim Beaudoin on Unsplash

Since King crabs eat algae faster than just about any other oceanic herbivore out there, the crabs were able to reduce seaweed covers by as much as 80%, especially when compared to the other coral reefs. Plus, more baby corals and fish species have grown and increased by 20%.

Curiously, if you think about it, anyone else can copy and replicate this experiment easily, which sounds like a cool idea, and means that the researchers were definitely on to something. 

Why Are These King Crabs Called Reef Goats?

The reason why these king crabs are called reef goats is because of a curious analogy. You see, back on drier land, goats were used to clear the ground for many centuries now. Goats like to eat just about anything, including grass, poison oak, clover, blackberry thorns, and so much more.

Since the king crabs are doing the ocean version of the goat land-clearing, the name has stuck with certain circles of people. Hopefully, in due time, these king crabs will continue saving the day, especially since everyone enjoys the ocean in general.

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Writer & Researcher | Therapist-in-Training | Crisis Responder | Writing wholesome stories for the masses.

New York City, NY

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