Bright Spots Within Coral Reefs Suggest They Could Ultimately Be Saved

Coral reefs in the Bahamas, as seen from the International Space Station. Tim Peake/ESA/NASA via Getty Images

Man-made climate change has many victims, but coral reefs – bastions of oceanic biodiversity – are among the most visually striking. Increasingly acidic and warming waters are causing them to bleach, whereupon the color drains away from them as their symbiotic algae are expelled. Without this symbiosis, the coral loses its major source of food and becomes highly susceptible to disease.

This aquatic apocalypse can be seen all across the world, but the Great Barrier Reef sums it up best: 93 percent of it is bleached, and 50 percent of it is either dead or dying. However, among all the doom and gloom, it appears there could be a few “bright spots” of hope. According to a new Nature study, which involved 6,000 reef surveys across 2,514 reefs within 46 countries around the world, 15 coral reefs are doing better than they should, considering the state of the oceans.

In these locations, coral reefs were flourishing against the odds, and far more fish were making them their homes. Despite the destruction of the world’s marine environments and the accelerating pace of man-made climate change, it appears that these beacons of hope are hiding mostly within the Pacific Ocean, and aren't necessarily untouched by humans. The bright spots were often associated within island communities, including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and sections of the Indonesia archipelago.

Bright spots contained more fish than would have been expected. Tane Sinclair-Taylor

Their existence is related to a number of factors, including local populations that were heavily dependent on marine resources and the presence of deep-water refuges shielded from the worst humanity has to offer. Significantly, it seemed that the more local communities, not fisheries, managed the reefs, the more the reefs appeared to be thriving and teeming with fish.

“Given the widespread depletion of coral reef fisheries globally, we were really excited to find these bright spots that were doing much better than we anticipated,” Prof. Josh Cinner, the study’s lead researcher and a member of the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia, said in a statement. “To be clear, bright spots are not necessarily pristine reefs, but rather reefs that have more fish than they should, given the pressures they face.”

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