Moorea’s reefs offer hope to warming ocean

Credit: Peter Edmunds

Extreme weather and climate events affect more than man-made infrastructures. They can also permanently damage ocean ecosystems. Following the 2016 El Niño, NSF-funded scientists were concerned that higher water temperatures would devastate coral reefs. While that proved true for the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the researchers found that reefs near the island of Moorea in the Pacific Ocean not only survived the storm but were thriving.

Scientists quickly began a study to learn why Moorea’s reefs were resilient. The study resulted in two theories. First, the seawater warming was much more moderate than expected, and second, reef health was at a peak before the storm.

Credit: Peter Edmunds

Marine biologist Peter Edmunds of California State University, Northridge, compared the reefs’ status to the way a healthy person fights disease. If someone is strong before contracting an illness, he or she is more likely to quickly recover. The same pattern happened with Moorea’s reefs. In 2010, Moorea was hit by a cyclone and shortly afterward an infestation of crown-of-thorns sea stars. Then the reefs recovered. Researchers believe they were riding that wave of recovery and were at their peak when El Niño arrived.

The study offers hope for the future for coral reefs in a warming ocean.

Learn more, here.