With coral reefs all around the world suffering massively because of global warming and pollution, scientists and conservationists are working hard to find out how we can save the coral reefs.
According to National Geographic, half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death, and this has only happened in the last ten years. Bleaching is triggered by global warming and other environmental stressors, and coral colonies just can not cope. Because of the number of bleaching events that coral reefs endure, there is no time for the corals to recover. This means that they die from the bleaching.
Coral reefs all across the world are suffering in this way. According to the American Meteorological Society, 75% of the tropic coral reefs on the planet have suffered from bleaching caused by heat stress.
Because of the importance of coral reefs in the planet’s oceans and the rate at which they are dying, scientists and conservationists are doing all they can to save the corals. One focus that is becoming more and more important to reef conservation is the development of super corals. Because the fight against climate change is not happening quickly enough, we need to look at what we can do to help corals survive the changes in the environment.
With super corals, we can increase the likelihood of coral reefs surviving bleaching events, but what are super corals, how are they developed, and will they really help us save coral reefs?
What Are Super Corals?
According to the Conversation, super corals are coral species that can withstand rapid changes and harsh conditions. It is the idea that, instead of focusing on the high percentage of corals that cannot survive global warming, we should focus on the small percentage of corals that can. Scientists are taking action and working with these surviving corals. There is the hope that we can use these corals to repopulate vulnerable or dead reefs, bringing life back to dying ecosystems all around the world.
Scientists and conservationists are working on lots of different super coral projects, so let’s take a look at the work that is being done!
The Great Barrier Reef
Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science are working with super corals to place back into the Great Barrier Reef. According to the Guardian, a group of researchers is crossbreeding corals in order for them to withstand higher temperatures. They are using the National Sea Simulator to understand what young corals can withstand when bred from different corals from the Great Barrier Reef.
The research is using 25 different strains of corals. Most coral colonies that are being bred are a mix of corals from the northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef and corals from the central parts.
Coral colonies that are crossbred to be super corals are now being planted in the Great Barrier Reef. According to Forbes, the corals that were bred did show resilience to heat, and are therefore now being monitored in their new homes in the ocean.
Why Does Breeding Corals Make Them Hardier?
Breeding corals in labs to replant in coral reefs means that scientists can choose traits of super corals to mix with other traits. Perhaps there is a coral species in a warm climate that is vulnerable to global warming. Scientists may choose to breed this coral with a super coral from a colder region in order for the coral to withstand heat.
Lab-bred super corals appear to have big potential. According to the Guardian, breeding corals from cooler areas with corals from warmer areas mean that the offspring will be able to withstand heat stress better.
Scientists are also looking into how they can toughen up the zooxanthellae that live in the coral’s tissue. Researchers have been breeding this algae for heat tolerance in the hope that this will better protect the corals.
The Red Sea
The Red Sea is a strip of water that runs from Suez in Egypt to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. It has Saudia Arabia to one side, and Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti to the other. It has a number of coral reefs, however recent developments have been surprising. Instead of all the coral reefs suffering and dying at the same rate as other coral reefs, the reefs in the Red Sea appear to be much more hardier.
According to the Guardian, reefs that are located in the Gulf of Aqaba, towards the top of the Red Sea, have survived rising temperatures. Coral reefs in the Red Sea have never suffered from mass bleaching, and therefore scientists are very interested in what this means for reef conservation. Could these super corals of the Red Sea help other coral reefs around the world?
According to the Guardian, researchers at the University of Lausanne took corals from the Red Sea and subjecting them to rising temperatures. They survived an increase of seven degrees. This is really interesting, however, we do need to be careful about getting our hopes up. The super corals of the Red Sea might not be able to survive in other coral reefs.
Can We Still Learn From These Corals?
Even though we may not be able to transplant corals from the Red Sea elsewhere, these super corals may still be important when it comes to reef conservation. Scientists might still be able to learn how they survive and therefore breed the corals from other reefs to have these characteristics.
As we know, scientists are breeding super corals from different species, and perhaps bringing in the corals from the red sea may assist in growing the hardiest corals that will save reefs.
Are Super Corals The Answer?
Unfortunately, global warming and the ocean is a complex and deep issue and there is no one specific answer. We need to stop global warming before it is too late, however, super corals are an exciting way in which we can perhaps assist coral reefs in surviving bleaching events.
A lot of scientists involved in this kind of work have suggested that what they are doing is speeding up evolution. The corals have the potential to survive and thrive in this changing world, but we need to give them a helping hand to do so!