The new research study led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego suggests that by improving overall ocean health, corals are better able to recover from bleaching events, which occur when rising sea temperatures force corals to expel their symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon that is expected to increase in frequency as global climate change increases ocean temperatures worldwide.
The new findings, published in the July 22 issue of the journal PLoS ONE, show that following a major bleaching event Mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata) on various reefs in Honduras and Belize was able to recover and grow normally within two to three years when the surrounding waters and reef were relatively healthy. In comparison, those corals living with excessive local impacts, such as pollution, were not able to fully recover after eight years."You can imagine that when you are recovering from a sickness, it will take a lot longer if you don't eat well or get enough rest," said Jessica Carilli, Scripps graduate student and lead author on the study. "Similarly, a coral organism that must be constantly trying to clean itself from excess sediment particles will have a more difficult time recovering after a stressful condition like bleaching."
"It is clear that Mesoamerican corals really fell off a cliff in 1998 -- nearly everybody suffered mass bleaching," said Dick Norris, Scripps professor of paleooceanography and co-author of the study. "There are no pristine reefs in the region, but the ones in the best shape clearly are more resilient than those that are long-suffering. It shows that a little improvement in growing conditions goes a long way in recovering coral health."
Corals are widely considered to be barometers for global warming and are important for biodiversity in the world's oceans. Coral reefs thrive in warm tropical oceans under just the right conditions that include moderate temperatures and low nutrient and sediment input from land-based sources. Protecting reef health from local sources of stress, such as runoff, can improve resilience to global warming stress.Coral bleaching occurs when the tiny zooxanthellae, living with the tissues of coral polyps, which are responsible for their vibrant colors, are lost and the coral turns white in color.
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at UC San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.
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