‘A remarkable story’: Resilient coral a sign of hope as living reefs suffer heat stress


A research trip to Australia’s largest ocean reef system has shown promising signs of new life, after the 2016 mass bleaching event, which affected coral reefs around the world.

But unlike the mass bleaching events of the past, scientists worry that Scott Reeve is facing a barrier to his recovery.

Recurrent smaller marine heat waves since the 2016 event are exacerbating the effects of bleaching, said James Gilmore, a coral ecologist research scientist from the Australian Institute of Oceanography.

“We’re getting this repetitive heat and stress on the reefs which is obviously going to hamper their recovery.

“We see this overall resilience, but the effects of ongoing heat stress are hampering that.”

Scott Reef is located in the Timor Sea and consists of three separate reef structures.(Supplied: AIMS Luke Thomas)

The three reefs, located 200 kilometers northwest of Broome, are incredibly isolated, a feature that Dr Gilmore said made them a good case study in determining the effects of climate change on Australian reefs.

“Because of its isolation, it doesn’t suffer from these additional pressures, like fishing pressure or pollution pressure that you see on other corals that can confuse our conclusions about what’s happening with climate change and coral bleaching,” he said.

A case study of the impacts of climate change

The notes in Scott Reeve reflect a terrible pattern that has emerged not only in Australia but throughout the world.

a Global Key Reef Analysis, released in October, found that about 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs, equivalent to more than all of Australia’s living corals, have been lost in less than a decade.

It found that the main reason for the decline was the “widespread recurrence of coral bleaching events” that were “preventing corals from recovering”.

But the analysis I also found that there is hope, with some corals showing strong, sometimes surprising resistance to continuous heat stress.

New coral in the image of Scott's underwater reef
Dr James Gilmore said some of the corals are showing impressive signs of recovery, despite repeated heat stress(Supplied: AIMS)

This has been observed in Scott Reeve as well, said University of Western Australia researcher Luke Thomas, a research associate at AIMS.

Make the most of heat-resistant corals

Dr. Thomas said the researchers were trying to take advantage of this surprising flexibility.

“One way is if we know that this pocket of reef contains heat-resistant corals, let’s protect it, and avoid anchor damage or overfishing,” he said.

The second method, he said, is to breed tolerant coral populations for recovery.

“So if we want to restore a degraded portion of the reef, we don’t want to just replace that reef with one that will bleach and die in the next heat wave,” he said.

“We want to replace them with fitter, tougher individuals.

“So we can target this pocket of heat-tolerant corals as a spawning flock, or a source of supply for those corals.”

Number of tanks on board the AIMS ship
Scientists conducted research on heat tolerance while in the Scott Reef area.(Supplied: AIMS Luke Thomas)

The science and restoration work in Scott Reef is similar to that of the Great Barrier Reef, with the government Kicked it half a billion dollars in 2018 To help deal with the problems facing the Great Barrier Reef.

Glasgow climate talks ‘disappointing’

The researchers say coral reef management and recovery is critical to saving reef systems in the future, but it is second only to the need to cut carbon emissions.

Jodi Romer, a marine biologist at James Cook University, said Australia had left “a lot to answer” after the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

“There has been a clear message over the past five years of what increasing emissions and climate change are doing to Australia, not to mention the entire world, and we couldn’t stand to do anything about it.”

Judy Romer standing in front of the aquarium
Marine biologist Dr Jodi Romer said the recent climate conference in Glasgow left much to be answered in terms of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.(ABC: Travis Mead)

Dr Romer said the federal government’s priorities were wrong.

“A clean economic recovery is a win for Australia,” she said.

“That should be a priority for Australia but for some reason Australia still prioritizes coal, gas and oil exploration.

“This is completely at odds with Australia’s national priority to protect people, our ecosystems and our natural spaces.”

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