Unravelling mysteries of coral bleaching

February 15, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 02:02 am IST

Oceanographers are diving deep into the aquamarine seas of Lakshadweep to unravel the mysteries of marine life that thrive and wither deep down there around the colourful corals.

A group of researchers from Kerala are looking at the science behind the defence mechanism of corals to resist coral bleaching, the biggest threat to their beautiful submarine world. In the process, they also hope to tell the world how the unique multi-hued organisms come back to life and support the marine ecosystem in the process.

Anu Gopinath, Assistant Professor in Chemical Oceanography of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Kochi and B. Prakash Kumar of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, are currently working on the role of Mycosporine-like Amino Acids (MAA) in preventing coral bleaching in the reefs of Lakshadweep Archipelago. The researches are supported by the Department of Science and Technology and the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment.

Coral bleaching is considered as a stress response of corals to a few biotic and abiotic factors. Increased solar irradiance (photosynthetically active radiation and ultraviolet band light) is an important factor. Exposure to UV radiation when combined with thermal stress could be lethal for corals.” It could lead to the loss of algal symbionts from coral tissue and coral bleaching, the project note explained.

MAA are small secondary metabolites produced by organisms that live in environments with high volumes of sunlight. Besides protecting cells from mutation due to UV radiation, they also boost cellular tolerance to desiccation and salt and heat stress. The role of MAA in supporting the life of corals in Lakshadweep will be tracked, explained Dr. Anu.

The coral bleaching that the world witnessed in 1998 created ripples in Lakshadweep too. Another incident of limited impact was reported four years ago. It is estimated that there are over 100 species of corals in the Lakshadweep sea though one may encounter up to 20 during a normal collection dive, she said. The coral reefs are highly sensitive ecosystems facing the threat of extinction. They are often compared to tropical rainforests considering the ecosystem services they deliver, explained the researcher. Coral reefs are considered valuable source of pharmaceutical compounds from which drugs for the treatment of cancer, HIV, cardiovascular diseases, ulcers, and other ailments are extracted, highlighting the medicinal value of corals, the researchers noted.

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