Climate change and resilient coral reefs

University of California in Santa Barbara scientists found that coral reefs that inhabit warm waters easily adapt to fluctuations in water temperatures. Environmentalists alarmed by the dangers that coral reefs face as these are temperature-sensitive. This includes the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It has been found that not all coral reefs are prone to bleaching due to thermal stress. 

Deron Burkepile, a biologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara, who was a co-author of a new study in the journal Nature Communications said, I think most people probably think that you would see more bleaching in places where it's warmer year-round, and that was one of my assumptions as well.

Coral reefs are endangered with mass bleaching. The findings of the researchers were contrary to this belief. According to Sustainability Times, Burkepile and his colleague examined records with field observations of coral bleaching at 3,351 sites from across 81 countries between 1998 through 2017. They found that mass bleaching episodes tended to be less severe in tropical waters close to the equator and in regions with naturally high surface temperature variability.

It seems that corals that naturally thrive in warm waters and those with fluctuating high temperatures have the greater capacity to withstand stress and will not bleach easily. The researchers showed that corals who thrive in warm temperatures have higher adaptability. This presumes that corals follow the natural selection and have replaced those who cannot adapt to thermal stress. This present scenario does not imply that corals will continue to survive the rising water temperatures. 

Burkepile cautions that coral reefs are not out of the woods. They are under extreme threat in the near term, the next few decades to a century from climate change. 

Environmental experts are trying to halt a massive decline of corals by producing corals that are resilient to climate change in laboratories.

Any form of environmental stress, including the rise in temperature, results in the shedding of symbiotic algae by corals. Algae protect coral reefs and once these are shed, the remaining skeletal structures are prone to stress. 

Mary Donovan, a postdoctoral researcher who was a co-author of the study said, think of someone from New York, where it gets really cold in the winter but it's also really hot in the summer. They have different wardrobes coats, boots hats, shorts, sandals and they can adapt to the changing weather. Compare this to someone who lives in the Caribbean and only has shorts; if it got cold they'd be out of luck.

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