Climate change: Marine heatwaves kill coral instantly

10 Août, 2019, 10:10 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The study found that severe marine heatwaves can potentially kill coral in a matter of days or weeksMore

Although more susceptible to disease and death, bleached coral can recover if temperatures fall, so some scientists have been hopeful that urgent climate action could revive impacted reefs.

The study, which also involved researchers from the University of Newcastle in Britain, Australia's James Cook University, the University of Technology Sydney and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used CT scans of coral reefs to monitor the impact of extreme temperatures. These increasingly severe thermal conditions are causing an unprecedented increase in the frequency and severity of mortality events in marine ecosystems, including on coral reefs.

Researchers suggest that "severe heatwave-induced mortality events" should therefore be considered a separate phenomenon to coral bleaching, and one which causes more damage. "The water temperatures are so warm that the coral animal doesn't bleach-in terms of a loss of its symbiosis-the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains".

Report co-author and UNSW associate professor Tracy Ainsworth said the research confirms what many scientists have known for a while: that marine heatwaves are becoming more severe and are having greater impacts.

Explaining on the paper, Dr. Laura Richardson, from the College of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University, UK, said that the vital discovery was "the rapidity with which the reef skeleton breaks down when you have these severe heatwaves".

"We are just going so far beyond what's normal".

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University of Technology Sydney scientists A/Professor David Suggett and Dr Emma Camp explain how they were also able to use novel bio-optical techniques that allow them to visualise and study the rapid transition in the coral microbiome for the first time. The heat kills the tissue on the coral reefs, leaving them vulnerable to microbes which then cover the stripped skeletons, dissolving them within as little as a few days.

Commenting on the analysis, Dr James Guest from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, who has been researching coral reef habitats for more than 15 years, said: "It is onerous to know how a lot we've got to keep saying that this is a huge problem before policy-makers resolve to do something about it". This discovery fits into this category.

Dr Mark Eakin, Coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch, says such events are predictable.

A/Prof Ainsworth says that the team hopes that this research will motivate the public to tell decision makers how important coral reefs are to them, and voice the immediate need to preserve coral reefs now.

In addition to being critical habitats for marine life, coral reefs are essential to people in coastal communities, who depend upon them for fishing, tourism, and beach protection.

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