Working in laboratory conditions, scientists from EPFL and UNIL in Switzerland and Bar-Ilan University and the InterUniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Israel have exposed Stylophora pistillata corals for six weeks to the sort of high water-temperature and acidic conditions expected to occur in the region in the future.
They found not only that the corals didn’t bleach but that they appeared to adapt to the stressful artificial environment and improve in condition.
The species Stylophora pistillata, better known to divers as smooth cauliflower or hood coral, does not necessarily show the same resilience in other parts of the world.
It is thought that after the last Ice Age only the most resistant specimens were equipped to recolonise the warm waters of the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean – and by the time they gained its northern reaches the water had in fact became cooler, leaving them effectively over-resistant.
The corals in the Gulf of Aqaba may be equipped to resist climate-change effects but they remain exposed to other threats such as local pollution and overfishing, Stylophora pistillata has an IUCN classification of Near Threatened..
So the scientists want countries in the region – Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – to co-operate to protect the reefs on which the coral is found.
They want time to be able to unlock more of its secrets, and hope that it could eventually be used to re-seed dying reefs elsewhere.
Australian researchers recently identified “super-corals” in New Caledonia, as reported on Divernet in June. That scientific team has since been seeking similarly resistant corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
The study “Common Reef-Building Coral in the Northern Red Sea Resistant to Elevated Temperature and Acidification” is published in Royal Society Open Science and can be read here.
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