It’s no secret that coral reefs around the world are at risk due to human-caused climate change and pollutants. However, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania figured out a way to potentially limit our damage on coral reefs by taking coral species that were strong enough to survive severe heat stress and embedding them to degraded reefs to boost their chances of restoration.
The team focused on collecting species that resisted the severe bleaching of Hawaii’s coral reefs in 2015. Initially, they wanted to study how these reefs responded to being uprooted and relocated in a different environment. The researchers took resistant corals and placed them in a variety of environments such as a completely different reef and tanks where scientists simulated bleaching events. The corals were monitored for over six months and the results are promising.
The scientists discovered that there was no detectable difference in the corals’ response to bleaching once they were transplanted, and they remained resilient despite changes in factors such as water flow rate, access to food and nutrients, and light.
The only significant difference was seen in the reproduction rates of the coral. Corals that had higher growth rates before the bleaching event seemed to be healthier, which tells the team that a strong coral nursery should be made up of corals that had been living under good conditions, as these benefits carry over even when they are placed in a less ideal environment.
These efforts are being made to prevent more coral from undergoing coral bleaching, which happens when algae, a coral’s critical source of nutrients, becomes stressed and breaks free from the coral because of abnormal sea temperatures. This causes them to turn white and, in many cases, die.
While this transplanting method may not work for a broad regeneration plan for bleached coral, the idea of targeting individual vulnerable reefs for seeding strategies is a promising solution for smaller-scale situations.
Study Source: PNAS
Additional Resources: University of Pennsylvania