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Corals require clear, light penetrating water for optimum growth and health. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that are found in sewage find there way into coastal waters and cause problems for coral reef ecosystems. Generally, marine ecosystems are limited by nitrogen while freshwater ecosystems are limited by phosphorus. Therefore, additional inputs of nitrogen and/or phosphorus in aquatic ecosystems may result in higher growth rates of certain species of algae while inhibiting the growth of others (e.g. some species of large brown algae). Algae can compete with corals for space on the reef. Thus, if there is an abundance of nutrients in the system, algae may be favored leading to an increase in their abundance and potentially limiting the amount of light available to corals. This threatens the health of corals and the associated reef organisms that are dependent on them.

Nutrient pollution sources also contain pathogens such as disease or infection-causing viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms that are often associated with human and livestock waste. Exposure to pathogens can pose significant human and environmental health risks.
Sewage run-off from resorts degrades the surrounding ecosystem. Location: Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka Photo by: A. Rajasuriya (from ReefBase: http://www.reefbase.org)
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