Coral reefs, along with polar bears, are basically the sad, rained-on mascots of climate change doom-and-gloom: Every bit of news from them seems worse and worse.
But here’s some good news! Some reefs in some parts of the world actually stand a pretty good chance of rebounding from the bleaching events that are expected to become more and more common with global warming, according to a study out in Nature this Wednesday.
By looking at the results of a massive bleaching event that wiped out corals in the Seychelles in 1998, scientists were able to determine what factors may have contributed to the subsequent recovery of 12 out of 21 sites surveyed. From that, they can make pretty good predictions about which reefs will be able to muscle through some of the worst of our climate-ravaged future. From the Guardian:
Looking at just two of 11 factors — water depth and the physical complexity of the coral — the team were able to use modeling to 98% of the time correctly predict whether a reef would recover or not. Deeper water and a more complex structure made a recovery more likely.
This means that northern and offshore parts of the Great Barrier Reef, where the coral is still relatively pristine and protected from human activity, actually seem pretty robust. If conservationists can focus their efforts on those survivor reefs — protecting them from further damage from boat anchors, fishing gear, or sediment dumping — they may be able to stave off some of the worst damage from warming water, as the study’s lead author James Graham told the Guardian:
“If emissions continue as they are, the longer term future is likely to still be bleak, even for those recovering at the moment [from bleaching], because the projections are coral bleaching will become more and more frequent. In a way it’s [the study’s findings] buying us time to keep as many reefs in good shape as we can, while we tackle some of these global, bigger issues.”
Right now, parts of the Pacific are in the grips of a mass coral bleaching that could be the worst seen in 20 years. So let’s do us all a favor and not make things worse than they already are.