Coral Reefs May Not be Doomed After All
A wealth of research has warned that corals reefs, true reservoirs of biodiversity, are seriously threatened by human activities and climate change. But now researchers are offering a glimmer of hope, finding that corals may not be doomed to disappear after all.
According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the planet's reefs will still be around in the future, but they just may look different from the ones we know now. Meaning, new coral fauna will emerge, coming from the species that are most resistant to temperature increases.
Currently, corals reefs are under a lot of stress due to the intensification of cyclones, warming ocean temperatures that are causing extensive bleaching events, outbreaks of a coral-eating starfish, ocean acidification and coral diseases. These factors, combined with threats of overfishing, pollution and coastal development, had led the majority of scientists to believe that the world's corals would disappear by 2100.
But now a team at the French Institute of Research for the Development (IRD) in Marseille, France is painting a less gloomy picture. In fact, while numerous coral species have indeed been declining for more than 30 years, others are remaining stable and even increasing in abundance. Consequently, some reefs have recently managed to recover.
During the 15-year study, IRD researchers and their colleagues observed the ecological development of seven coral reefs throughout the world. This includes two in the Caribbean, in Belize and in the American Virgin Islands, and five throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean in Kenya, Taiwan, Hawaii, Moorea and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
To their delight, they found that certain genera of coral, like the Porites reef corals, have managed to resist warming ocean temperatures and increase their numbers.
The Earth's climate has changed before, and if corals could survive then then they can now. Previous studies of fossil reefs have shown that the abundance and structure of coral populations have already varied greatly over the course of past millennia.
So while climate change may cause certain coral species to disappear, other "winning" species will thrive and rise to the top. These are the corals that have the greatest heat tolerance, the best population growth rates or the greatest longevity. So although our warming world will indeed cost some of the world its coral, the good news is that they all won't be completely wiped out.
These surviving species should progressively populate the planet's reefs, until they dominate them entirely.
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