An Island of Hope for Coral Reefs

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Guest Blogger

I’m accustomed to getting bad news about the state of the world’s coral reefs, but this week there’s some good news for a change.

Scientists have just released findings from their research in American Samoa on especially tough species of corals that are adapting to warming waters and may be resisting climate change.

In a new paper published by Ocean Conservancy board member Dr. Stephen Palumbi and other scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the scientists found that some reef-building corals are resistant to the stress of warmer waters that cause coral bleaching.

While studying corals in American Samoa, researchers found heat-resistant corals can survive damaging temperature increases by switching on a set of 60 genes before the stress has occurred. Heat-sensitive corals switch these genes on after stress has already occurred. This means that some corals have the ability to withstand future increase in ocean temperature.

DNA sequencing can offer broad insights into the differences that may allow some organisms to persist longer amid future changes to global climate.

“If we can find populations most likely to resist climate change and map where they are, then we can protect them,” said Dr. Palumbi, a renowned marine biologist and director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “It’s of paramount importance, because climate change is here.”

Coral reefs are vital homes for commercially and recreationally important fish, aquaculture and storm protection for approximately 1 billion people worldwide. Over the last 20 years, half of the world’s corals have been destroyed by a number of factors: overfishing, pollution, disease and rising temperatures and ocean acidification.

Even the strongest corals need our help. Heat-resistant corals still need protection since they are not immune to all stressors, especially human-made stressors such as pollution, overfishing, and damage from ships. Protection such as NOAA’s proposed listing of 66 corals species under the Endangered Species Act is incredibly important.

Watch and share Dr. Palumbi’s video to learn more about how protecting resilient corals gives us the best chance to save them in the face of warming temperatures. You can also learn more about the researchers involved in the study at the Institute of Marine Science, NOAA Fisheries at UC Santa Cruz and the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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