Australia's Great Barrier Reef is proving more resilient than thought to sudden spikes in sea temperatures, a study published today shows, offering a glimmer of hope for the future of reefs globally in a world facing escalating risks from climate change. Remarkably, corals that bleached and survived 2016 were more resistant in 2017 to a recurrence of hot conditions. But a year later, it took a longer time for the recurrent warmer water to bleach coral to the same extent.
"The corals that were left after the 2016 bleaching event were the survivors, they were the tough ones", he said. This is called bleaching and if the marine heatwave lasts several weeks or more, the corals can die.
The reef ― a UNESCO World Heritage Website and the most substantial dwelling construction on the planet ― was cooked by overheated seawater in 2016 and once more in 2017, with photographs of sickly white coral horrifying individuals across the globe.
Magical hard coral reef showing signs of minor coral bleaching. IMAGE Getty
According to a recently published study, an worldwide team of researchers discussed the extent of damage to the coral reefs after the major bleaching events of 1998, 2002, 2016, and 2017.
"So it looks like the history of their experience in year one has toughened them up so that they've acclimatized to moderate levels in year two of heat exposure..."
A GREAT Barrier Reef island that was ground zero for coral bleaching two years ago, has signs of a slow recovery. "That surprised us, because if the southern corals had behaved the same way in year two as in year one, we should have seen 20 or 30 percent of them bleach, and they didn't", said Hughes. "It's something of a silver lining", the researcher added.
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The consequences of bleaching in the north and middle regions of the reef mean that coral diversity is likely to lessen in the future.
This is bad because coral is the foundation of marine ecosystems, much like trees are to forests, it said.
To give coral the best chance of adapting to rising temperatures, we need to do everything we can to curb emissions, according to Mr Lewis.
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Terry P. Hughes, James T. Kerry, Sean R. Connolly, Andrew H. Baird, C. Mark Eakin, Scott F. Heron, Andrew S. Hoey, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Mizue Jacobson, Gang Liu, Morgan S. Pratchett, William Skirving, Gergely Torda (2018) "Ecological memory modifies the cumulative impact of recurrent climate extremes" Nature Climate Change.
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