Surviving bleached Barrier Reef coral ‘more resilient to heat’

Audrey Hill
December 13, 2018

Hughes said that most of the corals that fared higher final year had been toucher species that aren't as inclined to coral bleaching.

"The prior experience of the corals has toughened them up". Now, scientists believe that the Great Barrier Reef adapts to warmer waters. This is called bleaching and if the marine heatwave lasts several weeks or more, the corals can die.

Study co-author, James Cook University's Dr Andrew Hoey, said the combined footprint of the two bleaching events had killed almost half of the corals on two-thirds of the world's largest reef system.

The report in the journal Nature Climate Change analyzed how corals along the Great Barrier fared in back-to-back mass bleaching events.

"We're coming into summer and seeing our dear friend Cyclone Owen whizzing around, which is thankfully putting out lots of water and rough weather, which is exactly what the Reef needs, but let's keep our fingers crossed", she said. Different, other susceptible species had been worn out in some components of the reef early on.

Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies looked at the impacts of bleaching in 2016 and 2017, finding surviving coral behaved differently the second time. The reef experienced back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

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Instead, most heat-sensitive corals were killed in 2016, meaning they weren't around to be wiped out again a year later, Professor Hughes said. "There's a prospect for acclimation, there might be an evolutionary response [among corals] that can make a mix that's tougher". Prolonged exposure turns them a ghostly white.

"If ocean temperatures return to normal quickly enough coral can recover, and it's quite possible that the algae that comes back will be the more resilient algae".

According to Dr Dobrovolsky, the next impending reef disaster will be on a much larger scale due to the predicted global increase in the rate of bleaching events.

The latest count represented about half of the coral species in the region and suggested an important function of deeper habitats which could be crucial in preserving biodiversity and helping to regenerate damaged shallow reef areas, research team leader Paul Muir from the Museum of Tropical Queensland said in a statement on December 12.

Under IPCC forecasts released earlier this year, between 70 and 90 per cent of coral species will be lost if we reach warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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