Some coral reefs less vulnerable to rising sea temperatures

Nov 29, 2010

New research highlighting coastal locations where coral can better withstand rising sea temperatures, a leading cause of stress to coral reefs, may guide efforts to conserve the largest living structures on Earth.

The findings hold promise for an estimated 100 million people living along the coasts of tropical developing countries whose livelihoods and welfare depend directly on , but are currently under threat from .

In a report published in an online edition of , scientists from Australia, the UK, Mexico and the US, mapped coral stress across the Bahamas in the Caribbean and found that sea temperatures, which strongly influence coral health, caused less stress to reefs in certain areas.

This discovery was borne out in the second half of the study, during which the researchers designed marine reserves best-suited to four possible scenarios of how coral would respond to further sea temperature rises.

In each hypothetical scenario, 15 per cent of the locations in the Bahamas were consistently selected.

The study's lead author is Professor Peter J. Mumby, from The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute and the UQ School of Biological Sciences.

He said while the research complicated current understanding of marine reserve design, the findings could help make the best use of the limited resources available for coral reef conservation.

“Designing marine reserves for the long-term is more difficult than we thought,” Professor Mumby said.

“The responses of coral to the impacts of climate change are relatively unknown at this stage.

"Yet the good news is that some geographic locations were consistently selected in the generated scenarios, regardless of how corals might adapt to warmer temperatures.

“These areas are great contenders for early conservation no matter what the future holds.”

Professor Mumby said that the research found good locations for protecting corals.

"We are providing this information to conservation partners in the Bahamas to help them in their efforts to work with local communities and establish new reserves.”

Professor Mumby says the response of coral to climate change is an ongoing focus for scientists and conservation advice will be updated regularly to reflect new research findings.

He says the world's oceans are becoming warmer due to the increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

A rise in sea temperature by as little as 1°C caused stress to corals and could lead to coral bleaching, where corals lost their internal symbiotic algae that helped them grow, and could result in vast areas of dead coral.

Scientists expect that warming could cause coral to die in large numbers.

The destruction of coral reef ecosystems will expose people in coastal areas of developing countries to flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of food and income from reef-based fisheries and tourism.

Explore further: Current residential development research is a poor foundation for sustainable development

Related Stories

Study finds seasonal seas save corals with 'tough love'

Nov 29, 2007

Finally, some good news about the prospects of coral reefs in the age of climate change. According to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, corals may actually survive rising ocean temperatures ...

Coral can recover from climate change damage

Jan 09, 2010

A study by the University of Exeter provides the first evidence that coral reefs can recover from the devastating effects of climate change. Published Monday 11 January in the journal PLOS One, the research shows ...

Caribbean reef ecosystems may not survive repeated stress

Nov 16, 2010

Coral reefs suffered record losses as a consequence of high ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean in 2005 according to the most comprehensive documentation of basin-scale bleaching to date. ...

Microbes could be the key to coral death

Apr 11, 2008

Coral reefs could be dying out because of changes to the microbes that live in them just as much as from the direct rise in temperature caused by global warming.

Recommended for you

Study provides detailed projections of coral bleaching

12 hours ago

While research shows that nearly all coral reef locations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, a new study showing in detail when and where bleaching will occur shows ...

Germany restricts fracking but doesn't ban it

18 hours ago

The German cabinet drew up rules Wednesday on the hitherto unregulated technology of "fracking" in Germany, narrowly restricting its use, but stopping short of an outright ban.

Life in the poisonous breath of sleeping volcanos

19 hours ago

Researchers of the University Jena analyze the microbial community in volcanically active soils. In a mofette close to the Czech river Plesná in north-western Bohemia, the team around Prof. Dr. Kirsten Küsel ...

Eggs and chicken instead of beef reap major climate gains

20 hours ago

Beef on our plates is one of the biggest climate villains, but that does not mean we have to adopt a vegan diet to reach climate goals. Research results from Chalmers University of Technology show that adopting ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.