Science That Can Possibly Save Coral Reefs

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Science That Can Possibly Save Coral Reefs

Kaitlyn Tran

There are many coral reefs that act as homes and food sources for many sea animals. Without them, ecosystems would collapse causing a major faltering in the oceans’ animal populations. This has been known for quite a while, and some factors that contribute to the decline of coral reefs include ocean acidification and warming seas. Scientists from around the world have been trying to prevent this major catastrophe from happening for many years and may have just found the cure through coral transplants.

Last summer, scientists transplanted hundreds of nursery-grown coral fragments into the Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast of Queensland, Australia. This process is known as coral transplants, but it has been known for a long time as it helped restore damaged reefs. So why has this sudden transplant changed the Great Barrier Reef? For many years, the Australian authority that manages the Great Barrier Reef has been preventing and interfering with the reef’s ecology. After climate change had greatly changed the reef, it prompted a more hands-on approach to recovering the wonder of the world. “The coral report is a pragmatic list of tools for helping reefs survive climate,” said Stanford University biologist Stephen Palumbi. “Kind of like what always happens when the panic of a crisis ebbs and you have to get down to solutions.”

When heat released by photosynthesizing algae is released near coral, the coral becomes “bleached,” which leads to its death. This is quite dangerous due to coral covering a wide stretch of 1,400 miles, but that is also the lowest length the reef has ever been on record. It was when 2,900 of the individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef suffered through bleaching that the coral transplantation underwent. David Suggett, a marine biologist leading the Future Reefs Program of the University of Technology Sydney, worked together with a team of researchers and a local reef-tour company to obtain fragments of the coral that actually survived through the horrific bleaching, and took them to grow a lagoon near the reef. Finally, after months of growth, these fragments were taken back to be planted using a clip that allows for quick-and-easy attachment to the reefs. A question that all scientists working on this project are trying to answer is whether the implantation of corals will speed up reef recovery. “The success of the project won’t be known until we have another marine heat wave,” says Suggett.

Coral bleaching on a large scale used to occur naturally every 27 years but had increased use to climate change. Though this new science may be assumed to have helped reefs, it is still unsure of what the true effect will be. Only until the next coral heat wave will the answer be known of whether coral fragmentation will be able to save our dying coral reefs.

 

Photo courtesy of FT.COM