Science

Surviving coral in Great Barrier Reef develops resilience

Surviving coral in Great Barrier Reef develops resilience”

The future of the world's coral reefs is uncertain, as the impact of global heating continues to escalate.

Corals on Australia's Great Barrier Reef that survived bleaching from rising sea temperatures were more resistant to another bout of hot conditions the following year, scientists said Tuesday, a "silver lining" for the embattled ecosystem.

"The corals that were around in 2017 were the ones that survived 2016".

"Dead corals don't bleach for a second time".

"The corals that were left after the 2016 bleaching event were the survivors, they were the tough ones", he said.

"The response of the reef to heat exposure in year two, depended in part on its experience one year earlier", said lead researcher Terry Hughes. The reason why there was less bleaching a year ago was that the more susceptible species of corals died off in 2016.

The film, Murder on the Reef, by Gold Coast based geochemist Allen Dobrovolsky and filmmaker Alex Fitzwater, compares poor management of Australia's Great Barrier Reef with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The response of coral to heat stress is largely dependent on the symbiotic algae - known as zooxanthellae - that inhabit it, according to the Chief Investigator of the Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Reef Research Program, PhD candidate Brett Lewis. "A year later, the central region saw the most prolonged heating", said co-author Dr Mark Eakin, from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program, in Maryland, USA.

Meanwhile, in the southern region - the least-affected - corals that suffered minor bleaching in the first year showed no bleaching in the second.

Throughout the first occasion, which scientists likened to an underwater apocalypse, almost 30 p.c of the reef died. "One of the worst possible scenarios is we'll see these southern corals succumb to bleaching in the near future". "We called that 'ecological memory, ' and show that these repeating events are now acting together in ways that we didn't expect", said Prof Hughes.

The film reveals an underlying lack of co-operation between government, marine research scientists, activists, politicians, indigenous leaders and the general public as being a core factor in the rapid decline of the reef's health.

"We need urgent global action on greenhouse emissions to save the world's coral reefs".

Although that may offer some hope that reefs can develop resilience to bleaching, a warming climate will put more pressure on reefs in the south as well, according to Professor Hughes.



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