The GOOD NEWSletter #10: Coral Reef Rebound

Coral reefs represent some of the world’s most spectacular beauty spots, but they are also the foundation of marine life: without them, many of the sea’s most exquisite species will not survive. ~Sheherazade Goldsmith

Coral reefs are the aquatic equivalent of the ‘canary in the coal mine.’ First, the bad news. As I’m sure you’ve heard, coral reefs are deteriorating all over the world due to ‘bleaching.’ I was surprised to learn that bleached coral is not necessarily dead! Learn more about coral bleaching from NOAA:

When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.

Now the good news: natural selection favors heat-resistant coral, reefs can be ‘reseeded’, and autonomous drones can help.

Hope for Coral Reefs: The Strong May Survive

Why are coral reefs so important? Some estimates say they support a quarter of all ocean life and they are harmed by warming oceans. However, researchers have found a reason to be optimistic!

“It’s one enormous natural selection event,” said Terry Hughes, an expert on coral reefs at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. In effect, the 2016 heat wave killed off many of the most heat-sensitive corals…

The ocean was even hotter in 2017, but

Good News: The strong survived! ‘Ecological memory’ means that the experience of a biological community can influence its ecological response in the future.

Coral reefs near Lizard Island, Australia.Photo by: The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey, via Associated Press

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Coral Comeback: Reef ‘seeding’ in the Caribbean

The scene is dire. Warm water has bleached the coral and mats of algae and seaweed have covered shallow reefs. Sea urchins and reef fish are replaced by snails and worms that tunnel through coral skeletons.

Live coral coverage on Caribbean reefs is down to an average of just 8 percent, from 50 percent in the 1970s.

It seems a daunting labor-intensive task, but dedicated conservationists are responding by breeding baby corals for warmer water and seeding reefs in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Good News: Seeding has helped to restore reefs, encouraging an increase in bigger reef fish and algae-eating black sea urchins.

Credit: AP Photo/Puntacana Ecological Foundation, Victor Manuel Galvan)

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Autonomous Drones will Reseed Coral Reefs

An autonomous underwater drone has monitored the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and protected the corals by killing predatory crown-of-thorns starfish.

But now researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia have announced that the RangerBot has a new mission: it is to be rechristened “LarvalBot” and will be repurposed to spread coral babies.

Good News: LarvalBot will be able to spread the coral larvae up to 100 times faster than humans can. Professor Matthew Dunbabin from QUT is optimistic: “This has the potential to revolutionize coral restoration on reefs worldwide,”

Credit: Queensland University of Technology

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It looks like nature and efforts from dedicated scientists and conservationists, aided by technology, can help protect coral reefs, the foundation of marine life. Learn more about worldwide coral reef conservation and how you can help give coral reefs a future at Secore International.

Optimistically yours,
Rod Murray