Skin cancer found in Australian reef fish

Aug. 2, 2012 at 6:34 PM
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NEWCASTLE, England, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Skin cancer has been found in marine fish on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, directly beneath the largest hole in the ozone layer, scientists say.

A collaborative study between Britain's Newcastle University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science has measured the incidence of melanoma in coral trout, a wild marine fish, a Newcastle release reported Wednesday.

It is the first time skin cancer has been diagnosed in wild fish populations, the researchers said, and 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," Newcastle researcher Michael Sweet said.

Of 136 fish sampled, 15 percent showed dark lesions on the skin.

The extent of the lesions ranged from as little as 5 percent of the skin to full coverage and an almost entirely black appearance, Sweet said.

"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," Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Michelle Heupel said.

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