Hawaii Reef System Discovered To Be Resilient To Warming And Acidic Oceans

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Coral reefs around the world are being devastated by a variety of factors including climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and coastal development. Unfortunately, major bleaching events across the world have caused the decimation and loss of giant masses of reefs including the Great Barrier Reef. If climate change continues at its current pace, we will soon see most reefs in the world gone.

While most reefs are disappearing, researchers have now found a reef system that is actually thriving and growing after years of being beaten and killed from pollution. In a new study, researchers discovered “super corals” that have adapted to harsh waters off the coast of Hawaii’s
Kāne’ohe Bay.

The new study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and examined how coral reefs in Kāne’ohe Bay were devastated by human activity from 1930 to 1970 due to coastal development, sewage, warming waters and acidification.

The result of the attack on the reef system left 95 percent of it suffering from deadly damage and bleaching.

In the 1970s, sewage was redirected away from the reef system and allowing for the reef to breathe a little and the results have been astounding. In that time frame since, parts of the reef system have recovered by 50 to 90 percent.

Researchers are pointing to the fact that the reef system has adapted to become tolerant to acidic waters and are learning to survive with the changing oceans. To examine how much the reef system has learned to survive through harsh waters, the researchers took colonies of coral from Kāne’ohe Bay and another reef system in Waimānalo Bay , which is just 11 miles away, and compared how the two survived under harsh conditions in a lab setting.

After 2.5 months in bad quality water, the coral from Kāne’ohe Bay were notably resisting the rough water and were growing twice as fast as coral from Waimānalo Bay.

With the discovery, the next answer the researchers are seeking is what allowed for the coral to become resilient and hopefully learn how they can duplicate this to help promote growth in coral colonies across the world that are facing widespread bleaching. The authors did not in that study that, “Although our experiments in Kāne‘ohe Bay seem to rule out short-term acclimatization.”

This is not the first coral across the world to have been found to be resilient to changing oceans but it is a continued sign that coral reefs may have a future in a world that humans seem bent on changing. A method that is currently being used to help regrow already damaged reefs is taking coral fragments (or frags) that are grown in a lab and placed onto reefs. While this method can only be used on a small scale, hopefully it is a start to revitalize and regrow reefs while humans figure out a way to slow the changing climate caused by CO2 emmissions.

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