Adaptable mesocosm facility to study oil spill impacts on corals

Denise P. Silva, Gustavo Duarte, Helena D.M. Villela, Henrique F. Santos, Phillipe M. Rosado, João Gabriel Rosado, Alexandre S. Rosado, Edir M. Ferreira, Adriana U. Soriano, Raquel S. Peixoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Although numerous studies have been carried out on the impacts of oil spills on coral physiology, most have relied on laboratory assays. This scarcity is partly explained by the difficulty of reproducing realistic conditions in a laboratory setting or of performing experiments with toxic compounds in the field. Mesocosm systems provide the opportunity to carry out such studies with safe handling of contaminants while reproducing natural conditions required by living organisms. The mesocosm design is crucial and can lead to the development of innovative technologies to mitigate environmental impacts. Therefore, this study aimed to develop a mesocosm system for studies simulating oil spills with several key advantages, including true replication and the use of gravity to control flow-through that reduces reliance on pumps that can clog thereby decreasing errors and costs. This adaptable system can be configured to (a) have continuous flow-through; (b) operate as an open or closed system; (c) be fed by gravity; (d) have separate mesocosm sections that can be used for individual and simultaneous experiments; and (e) simulate the migration of oil from ocean oil spills to the nearby reefs. The mesocosm performance was assessed with two experiments using the hydrocoral Millepora alcicornis and different configurations to simulate two magnitudes of oil spills. With few exceptions, physical and chemical parameters remained stable within replicates and within treatments throughout the experiments. Physical and chemical parameters that expressed change during the experiment were still within the range of natural conditions observed in Brazilian marine environments. The photosynthetic potential (F v /F m ) of the algae associated with M. alcicornis decreased in response to an 1% crude-oil contamination, suggesting a successful delivery of the toxic contaminant to the targeted replicates. This mesocosm is customizable and adjustable for several types of experiments and proved to be effective for studies of oil spills.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5172-5185
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

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