Washington, August 2 (ANI): Wild marine fish populations in Great Barrier Reef, which exists directly beneath the world's largest ozone hole, have been inflicted with widespread skin cancer, a new report has revealed.
This is the very first incidence of melanoma being diagnosed in the coral trout.
According to Dr Michael Sweet, who is heading the collaborative study between Newcastle University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the appearance of the melanoma is almost identical to that found in humans.
"Further work needs to be carried out to establish the exact cause of the cancer but having eliminated other likely factors such as microbial pathogens and marine pollution, UV radiation appears to be the likely cause," Dr Sweet explained.
The study revealed occurrences of cancer in 'Plectropomus leopardus' also, which supports a high-value fishery on the Great Barrier Reef.
Of the 136 fish sampled, 20 (15 percent) showed dark lesions on the skin - the lesions covered as little as 5 percent of the skin ranging to full coverage and an almost entirely black appearance.
According to Sweet these numbers were significant.
"The individuals we looked at had extensive - but only surface - melanomas. This means the cancer had not spread any deeper than the skin so apart from the surface lesions the fish were basically healthy," he said.
"Once the cancer spreads further you would expect the fish to become quite sick, becoming less active and possibly feeding less, hence less likely to be caught. This suggests the actual percentage affected by the cancer is likely to be higher than observed in this study," Sweet said.
UV-induced skin cancer in fish has until now only been seen under laboratory conditions and has been used as a model to study the progress of human skin cancer due to the similarities in the disease.
But according to Dr Michelle Heupel from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, these findings are crucial.
"Given climate change scenarios and continuing alteration of coral reef environments understanding the cause of this disease is important to continued conservation and management of reefs and their inhabitants," he said.
This study has been published in the academic journal PLoS ONE. (ANI)