These beautiful structures protect coastal regions and provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people
Corals are the most biodiverse parts of the ocean, but are especially susceptible to climate change owing to their sensitivity to temperature and acidification. Many coral communities around the world suffered mass ‘bleaching’ – in which the symbiotic relationship between the coral and the organisms living in its tissues is disrupted – in 1998, which many attribute to El Niño.
Todd Lajeunesse, Penn State University
According to the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, coral reefs are one of the most vulnerable marine ecosystems and more than half of the world’s reefs are now at a medium or high risk of degradation.
Tropical cyclones, coral predators, and thermal stress-related coral bleaching and mortality have hit the Great Barrier Reef hard, causing coral cover to decline by 51 per cent between 1985 and 2012.
Will coral reefs survive? There is some hope that coral will be able to adapt to higher temperatures – one study in 2010 found that corals in the Indian Ocean are partnering with a species of algae-like protozoa that is able to withstand higher temperatures.Lead image:
Matt Kieffer/Flickr CC BY
- The 27-year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes (2012)
- IPCC: Climate change 2014 – impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability
- An article on corals’ resilience to future global warming
- Host–symbiont recombination vs natural selection in the response of coral–dinoflagellate symbioses to disturbance (2010)