The impending doom of climate change hovers over the planet like a dark grey cloud, and some people have taken note that these changes are heavily affecting coral reefs. For example, over 50% of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016. However, new research by the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science indicates that not every coral responds the same way to climate change, giving us some hope that certain corals may adapt to the changes as we try to reduce our footprint.
The UM study tested certain corals from Florida and the Caribbean for nine weeks. Any surviving coral were rehabilitated in a cooler temperature and normal pH to determine if the corals could recover when the environmental conditions became more hospitable. The researchers discovered that the mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) has the ability to survive under higher temperatures and acidities. With the extended periods of heat and higher acidity that accompany climate change, this potential reveals a new hope that we may be able to save the corals after all.
Generally, corals tend to be pretty sensitive to climate change, and the stress of being unable to cope with the new conditions causes the corals to die. This process is called coral bleaching, and the consequences are easily noticeable because the reefs will lose their bright colors and turn a ghostly white. This occurs because corals have a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae within its skeleton. This relationship is beneficial to both organisms as the algae provides essential nutrients, and the coral skeleton provides structure and protection. Unfortunately, when the environmental factors become too stressful, the coral expel the algae, thus losing its only source of food.
There are different varieties of algae that have different specialized traits, and the mountainous star coral contains certain algae called D symbionts. Based off the results of the study, scientists believe that the D symbionts are the reason why mountainous star coral are so resilient to the harsher environmental conditions in comparison to other coral species.
Given all the dreadful news concerning the loss of beautiful natural phenomena, this study provides a glimmer of hope. As time and scientific advancements progress, there will be more discoveries on how we can conserve our fellow Earth residents. In the meantime, learn how to do your part for the coral reefs by reducing your pollution and swapping out regular sunscreen with a reef-safe variety.
Have you heard of any organisms that may also have the potential to adapt to climate change?
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