Some corals could survive global warming, say scientists. An international team, working in the central Pacific, has discovered that coral, which has survived heat stress in the past, is more likely to survive it in the future, the PLoS One journal reported.
The research paves the way towards an important roadmap on the impacts of ocean warming, and will help biologists identify the habitats and locations where coral reefs are more likely to adapt to climate change.
“We’re starting to identify the types of reef environments where corals are more likely to persist in the future. The new data is critical for predicting the future for coral reefs, and for planning how society will cope in that future,” said Prof. Simon Donner at the University of British Columbia, who led the research.
When water temperatures get too hot, the tiny algae that provides coral with its colour and major food source is expelled. This phenomenon, called coral bleaching, can lead to the death of corals.
With sea temperatures in the tropics forecast to rise by one to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the scientists say coral reefs may be better able to withstand the expected rise in temperature in locations where heat stress is naturally more common.
This will benefit the millions of people worldwide who rely on coral reefs for sustenance and livelihoods, they say.
“Until recently, it was widely assumed that coral would bleach and die off worldwide as the oceans warm due to climate change,” said team member Jessica Carilli at Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.
“This would have very serious consequences, as loss of live coral — already observed in parts of the world — directly reduces fish habitats and the shoreline protection reefs provide from storms,” she added.