Reef can survive in warmer seas


Tribune Staff Reporter

NEW research has shown that a coral reef in Abaco can survive in extreme warming ocean temperatures caused by climate change.

The new study, conducted by US researchers, found that there were genetic differences between two adjacent reefs in Abaco, both dominated by the same coral species, “which may have allowed certain corals to survive through a coral bleaching event in 2015.”

In view of these findings, researchers say the new results may help develop strategies and add to existing knowledge on coral conservation and reef restoration in the face of climate change.

“We know that warmer sea temperatures associated with climate change are dramatically impacting reefs globally, so with our research partners, we are working hard and working quickly to determine which corals could survive,” said research biologist at Shedd Aquarium, Dr Ross Cunning.

“Identifying thermally tolerant reefs like the one in Great Abaco in The Bahamas is a high research priority for coral scientists and will help us determine where we should focus our conservation and reef restoration efforts.”

This comes after previous research listed climate change as the primary reason why coral reefs are on the decline across the world. According to researchers, increased sea temperatures of even about one degree Celsius can cause coral bleaching.

“Bleaching can result in coral death and broader ecosystem degradation. For example, coral cover has decreased by over 80 percent on Caribbean reefs since 1970,” officials added.

But, with little known about how “genetics, symbiotic microorganisms and environmental factors” work together to influence coral bleaching, Katie Parker, a research assistant at Shedd Aquarium, said scientists decided to investigate how some coral reefs are able to survive extreme temperatures, while others from the same species cannot.

In an effort to conduct this investigation, researchers said they looked to “corals that are thriving in an extreme, marginal environment,” which led them to Mermaid Reef in Abaco.

“The corals we studied in Mermaid Reef were presumably better suited to handle warmer water temperatures because this shallow, inshore reef regularly experiences high temperature and high light conditions, which may have selected for the hardiest corals and symbiotic algae,” noted Parker.

“Further study of reefs like these may help us better understand how corals acclimate and adapt to ongoing climate change.”

Meanwhile, executive director of the Perry Institute for Marine Science, Dr Craig Dahlgren added: “Coral reefs are part of the fabric of The Bahamas, harbouring important fishery resources that feed the nation and are vital to the economy, and protect the coastal zone where homes and tourism is concentrated.

“As our oceans warm from climate change, we must continue to study invaluable and fragile corals to help them persist. This new research is an essential piece of the coral conservation puzzle.”