For the third time in recorded history, a severe coral bleaching event is set to damage 38 percent of the world’s reefs, and researchers warn that the rising ocean temperatures responsible could bring on unprecedented destruction.
Spanning from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean, the bleaching is expected to destroy 12,000 square kilometres of coral this year, with the possibility of spreading even further in 2016. A deadly combination of a monster El Nino event, the large ‘blob’ of warm water circulating through the Pacific Ocean, and the effects of global warming has been blamed for the bleaching event, which will likely last for at least the next couple of years.
There’s not been much good news for the world’s coral reefs lately, with images released this week of the most dramatic bleaching event to date on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and experts predicting that climate change will eventually destroy the famous reef entirely. But researchers have now identified corals hiding in plain sight that are not only surviving increased acidification and warming temperatures, but appear to be thriving in them.
A team of Australian researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney has just returned from New Caledonia, where they were able to investigate this ‘extreme coral’, and figure out what makes it so hardy, and whether it could help save other reefs, and the species they support, around the world.
The coral we usually think of are located in tropical coral reefs, of which the Great Barrier Reef is an awesome example. But there’s also coral that lurks around the corners of these pristine reefs, for example, in murky mangrove rich areas, which scientists have shown are much tougher than their pristine counterparts.
“The corals … thrive in relatively acidic and hot mangrove waters; visibility is not great so they often go unnoticed,” said one of the researchers, David Suggett. “We want … to understand how corals can adapt and thrive to extreme environments that potentially represent the future for many reefs worldwide.”
So why travel to New Caledonia? The reef there, which is kind of like a mini version of the Great Barrier Reef, has amazing diversity in its coral population. “Despite the fact that among the 800 coral species described in the world, more than 401 were identified in New Caledonia we are only starting to really uncover the diversity and abundance of corals here,” said New Caledonian researcher, Riccardo Rodolfo-Metalpa. “And, importantly, whether these corals are resilient to human stressors, including climate change.”
Climate change is a huge problem for many kinds of corals. As ocean temperatures rise, corals can shed the symbiotic algae living in their tissue, which causes them to starve and turn white. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere is also making the ocean more acidic, which stops corals from calcifying properly.
Until tomorrow: Satisfaction consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element of life.