Coral reefs ‘adapting to warmer ocean temperatures’

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Coral reefs 'adapting to warmer ocean temperatures'

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Coral reefs appear to be adapting to warmer ocean temperatures, according to a new study that duplicated experiments from the 1970s.

A team of researchers looked at an effect known as coral bleaching – where symbiotic algae known as zooxanthellae is stripped from the coral by the increasing temperatures.

The zooxanthellae provide the coral with its source of food as well as give it its distinctive colours. When they die, it looks like the coral has been bleached white. And climate change is directly linked to this process.

However, it appears that the rate at which the bleaching takes effect has lessened over time. That means corals can withstand higher temperatures before losing the vital algae.

Magical hard coral reef showing signs of minor coral bleaching. (Image: Getty)

Scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology carried out tests mimicking trials that were conducted in the 1970s to find out the differences over time in increasing water temperature.

‘Most studies compare corals from different reef locations, whereas this is the first study to compare the same coral species from the same location over time,’ Keisha Bahr, a co-author of the study, said in a press release.

‘Re-running a 48-year-old experiment using the same coral species, same experimental setup, and the same observer allows us to directly test changes in coral temperature tolerance over the last half century.’

Parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will never recover from the impact of unseasonably warm waters, scientists have said. (Picture: Reuters)

In three of the species of Hawaiian coral that were tested bleaching occurred much later, with more coral surviving the changes after having a period of time to recover.

But it doesn’t mean that coral can necessarily withstand the huge impacts of global climate change.

Green sea turtle over coral reef underwater in Akumal, riveria Maya, Mexico. (Image: Getty)

The results of the study could be caused by things such as natural selection, changes to the algae or physiological changes to the coral itself.

Dr Ku’elei Rodgers, one of the researchers on the project, said: ‘Increased bleaching tolerance may not be enough for widespread coral survival.’

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