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Survival of Corals in the Hottest Reefs


A large species of corals are known to be under the threat of extinction with primary cause being global warming and overheating of sea temperature above high. Efforts are being made to help them survive and stay preserved in the years to come when temperature is predicted to rise even higher. However, amid all this a new study has found out that many species of corals are surviving even in the hottest parts of the planet. The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) and New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) are researching on how these corals are surviving the heat.

Normally tropical seas with temperatures around 28 degrees are considered safe for reefs as that is where most coral reef cluster and any increase in temperature causes heavy devastation to corals here. However, the corals in the Persian Gulf are surviving at a temperature up to 36 degrees Celsius every summer. Any other reef in the planet will not be able to survive such high temperature

To find out how these corals are living under heat the NOCS team worked closely with NYUAD and collected samples of the corals that could be used for molecular-scale investigation on how these corals endure the heat of that extent.

“We have established successful laboratory cultures of Gulf corals,” said Dr Jörg Wiedenmann, Head of the Coral Reef Laboratory and Senior Lecturer at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, both of which are based at NOCS. “This will greatly accelerate the progress of unraveling the mechanisms that underlie their surprising heat resistance”.

Reef is made of many species of corals each of which share a symbiotic relationship with algae that supply necessary nutrients to the host. Both the coral and the symbiotic algae mutually benefit from each other to the extent of depending on each other for their survival. These algae are sensitive to temperature changes that harm them and indirectly the coral too starts withering without its algae. Sometime even a sudden rise in temperature of just one degree can harm the algae causing devastation of corals in large scale. Bleaching is also a result of loss of these algae and hence tissue loss in seen in corals reveling their skeleton after loss of algal pigments.

In Gulf corals, both the coral host and the associated algal partners need to withstand the high seawater temperatures,” said Dr Wiedenmann who led the study. But their main discovery from the study was that these algae in the corals of the Persian Gulf belong to a special group known for its exclusive quality of thermal tolerance. “We see that the algae are indeed special but in a way that we did not expect,” said Dr Wiedenmann. “The algae that we found in most of the corals in Abu Dhabi reefs were previously described as a ‘generalist strain’ that is usually not found in corals exposed to high levels of heat stress.”

“The system seems to be more complex than it is commonly thought but now we are in an excellent position to tackle these important questions.”

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has lately approved financial support to Dr Wiedenmann and the Coral Reef Laboratory, so that the team can go ahead with the good work. The researchers will fabricate on their previous findings and use their sample corals to explore the molecular mechanisms that allow corals to thrive at extreme temperatures and endure the heat with such ease.

Already around 30 per cent of coral reefs are rigorously smashed and more than half of coral reefs globally may be lost within the near future because of global warming. An improved understanding of how corals act in response to rising sea temperatures is essential for envisaging the providence of coral reefs and to optimize reef preservation.

“Gulf corals are living at the limit of their tolerance,” said co-author Professor John Burt from the New York University Abu Dhabi. “We have observed an increased frequency of coral bleaching events in this area, and we need to act now to protect and understand these ecosystems that hold the answers to many important climate change related questions.”

Like some animals are adapted to surviving in desserts while some live only on ice, mother nature sure has plans for the coral reefs too to survive everywhere in the planet.