Above: a Coral Reef (CJ Photo)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Can coral reefs adapt to climate change?
According to a new study from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs may be able to adapt to “moderate” levels of climate change-related ocean warming.
The study, which was funded by the NOAA, found that corals have “already adapted to part of the warming that has occurred.”
“Earlier modeling work suggested that coral reefs would be gone by the middle of this century. Our study shows that if corals can adapt to warming that has occurred over the past 40 to 60 years, some coral reefs may persist through the end of this century,” said Cheryl Logan, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at California State University-Monterey Bay.
Warming waters in the Caribbean and elsewhere have led to a process called “coral bleaching,” which leads the algae that build coral reefs to be ejected.
That happens, the NOAA said, when oceans warm by 1 to 2 degrees celsius above “normal summertime temperatures.”
Through genetic adaptation, the study projected that coral reefs could reduce coral bleaching by between 20 percent and 80 percent of levels expected by 2100 — if carbon dioxide emissions see a “large reduction.”
“Not all species will be able to adapt fast enough or to the same extent, so coral communities will look and function differently than they do today,” Logan said.
Climate change is not the only problem for corals, however — threats include pollution, storm damage and rising sea levels, among others.
Some projects in the Caribbean, such as one at the Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire, have sought to rebuild Caribbean coral reefs through coral nursery programmes.