Super corals give hope for world’s reefs suffering from climate change

“It’s unfortunately but inevitably true that things are going to get worse for reefs over the next 20 to 30 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable,” said Dr. Christopher Jury, the lead author of a recent study and a post-doctoral researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

30 per of marine life are supported by 1 percent of the ocean bed. However, humans’ activities and climate change are causing more acidic and warmer oceans. The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change has warned last year that an increase of only 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) of global warming could see anywhere between 70 to 90 percent of earth’s reef completely gone.

But, the research of Dr Jury shows that coral may survive and thrive in waters more warm and acidic than the current ones. He studied coral reefs in Hawaii’s Kane’ohe Bay that were destroyed due to urbanization between 1930s and 1970s. At the beginning of 1970s the coral across the bay has decreased by more than 70 percent near the sewage output. However in the late 1970s when the sewage was diverted the coral started to recover quite rapidly despite the fact that the waters were more acidic and warmer. The recovery between 50 to 90 percent was “among the highest reported for any reefs in the Hawaiian Islands” as per the study published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal.

As per Dr. Jury, the main key was that the coral populations from Hawaii’s bay were able to “naturally harbor a lot of super corals”. Once the pollution factor was removed, those “super corals” promptly “came in and drove the reefs to a rapid recovery”.

Peek into the future

It is fascinating that these particular corals were able to survive and thrive in a climate considered hostile. Dr. Jury said that there was a combination of growth of remaining coral and a sort of “recruitment” of larval coral coming from the bay and other areas of Hawaii.

“Our thinking is that this bay is giving us a glimpse into the future where the corals that are at a disadvantage today have the advantage tomorrow,” Dr. Jury added.

“Even the very tough corals from Kane’ohe Bay die under the temperatures they’ll see in a few decades if we don’t substantially reduce climate change,” he reminded.

We cannot say whether these “super corals” could recolonize devastated elsewhere and is important to say that they do not thrive in cooler and less acidic water and their survival will depend nevertheless on the level of pollution.

“If we take the necessary steps now then we will begin to see this re-establishment by corals during our lifetime, and our children and grandchildren will be able to witness the recovery of coral reefs during theirs because we make the decision that reefs are worth saving,” he said.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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