Some coral reefs keep up with sea-level rise, research finds

May 9, 2018 by Florida Institute Of Technology, Florida Institute of Technology
This healthy inner reef near Palau shows exceptionally luxuriant coral growth and good carbonate production. New research from Florida Tech finds that healthy reefs such as this one may be able to keep up with rising sea levels. Credit: Florida Institute of Technology

Rising sea-level is threatening island nations that are no more than 3 feet above the high-tide line, but a new study has found that healthy coral reefs may be able to keep up and thus protect these vulnerable areas.

The findings from Florida Institute of Technology biology professor Rob van Woesik, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, are based on an extensive field study in Palau and Yap in Micronesia.

Building sea walls on tropical coasts to keep out the ocean is a substantial economic investment for small-island nations. "We know that coral reefs naturally build walls of limestone, and we found that some healthy reefs could produce enough of the material to keep up with under moderate change," van Woesik said.

He added, "Coral reefs, however, will not be able to keep pace with sea-level rise under rapid climate change, or business-as-usual, which is what's occurring today."

"We also found that nearshore reefs produce less limestone than reefs in other habitats, such as in lagoons and outer barrier reefs, so the nearshore reefs are most vulnerable to sea-level rise."

These results stress the need to reduce land-based pollution and sediment as the climate continues to change.

"Damaged coral reefs do not have the capacity to keep up with sea-level rise, inflicting a large economic burden on the coastal societies to build sea walls," van Woesik added.

This study emphasizes a need to protect nearshore reefs as sea-level rise continues. Where cannot keep up with sea-level rise, natural storm barriers will disappear, resulting in the loss of habitable land for millions of people worldwide.

Explore further: Dying reefs bigger threat to coasts than rising seas

More information: Robert van Woesik et al. Keeping up with sea-level rise: Carbonate production rates in Palau and Yap, western Pacific Ocean, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197077

Related Stories

New study finds Pacific reef growth can match rising sea

July 22, 2015

The coral reefs that have protected Pacific Islanders from storm waves for thousands of years could grow rapidly enough to keep up with escalating sea levels if ocean temperatures do not rise too quickly, according to a new ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...


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.