Coral reef ‘safe havens’ less vulnerable to rising temperatures identified

New research shows the impact of warming seas on fragile marine ecosystems depends on nearby coastal development and coral type. 

A team of Arizona State University scientists working with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory have published findings that show coral reefs may be able to survive mass bleaching events and cope with rising temperatures better than previously thought, depending on other influencing factors. 

Based on the Hawaiian Islands, the ASU team and the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science took off in the Global Airborne Observatory, an aircraft equipped with advanced spectrometers capable of mapping ecosystems on land and below sea level. This data was then used to assess changes to the stability, size, and therefore health of coral reefs over time. 

The Pacific archipelago and the most distant US state from the mainland experienced a mass bleaching event in 2019, and scientists had mapped coral along eight of the islands’ coastline before the event. Readings were then taken immediately after, with potential ‘refugia’ identified where coral mortality was up to 40% lower than nearby reefs, despite the fact heat stress was at a similar level. 

The results show that reefs close to heavily developed coastlines are significantly more susceptible to die-off during heat waves compared with those more removed from developed areas on land. This is likely due to the level of pollution entering the ocean from developed locations, creating an unfavourable environment for reefs to thrive. 

‘This study supports Hawaii’s Holomua Marine 30×30 Initiative by not only identifying areas impacted by ocean heat waves, but also areas of refugia,’ said Brian Neilson, study co-author and head of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources. The Holuma Marine 30×30 project has a goal of establishing marine management areas covering 30% of Hawaii’s nearshore waters. ‘These findings can be incorporated into management plans to aid in building a resilient network of reef regions and sustaining Hawaii’s reefs and the communities that depend on them into the future.’

In related news, last month the Vibrant Oceans Initiative issued a global warning that coral reefs would largely disappear by 2050 without urgent intervention and a concerted effort to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. 

Image credit: Peter Thomas



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Howard Dryden
Howard Dryden
2 years ago

The greatest threat to coral reefs is not climate change or elevated temperatures, it is pollution from industry and untreated municipal wastewater. It is from chemicals such as oxybenzone, the active ingredient in sunscreen. The chemical is also in 2500 different cosmetic products and at a concentration of 1% in plastic.
We know that it is toxic at 62ppt, and 20 million tonnes are dumped into coastal water every year. If you managed to dump 70,000 tonnes into the world’s ocean you achieve 62ppb in the world’s oceans down to 200m and kill everything as well as humanity.
We have passed the pH tipping point of 8.04 for the oceans and are now heading for the end point pH7.95 in 25 years, by which time all the corals and most marine life will have simply dissolved.
The reporting that the destruction of coral reefs is down to climate change has been a huge mistake because it has deflected us from the real reason for the destruction of corals and most marine life and that is pollution from toxic particles such as plastic, and partially combusted carbon as well as toxic for ever chemicals such as Oxybenzone.
We can’t stop climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it is now too late the only chance we have is to regenerate nature by stopping pollution.
I gave a presentation on the subject at COP26, you can view the presentation and read the reports below

Read the latest report…..
The GOES Report …
COP26 Presentation…..
Presentation notes

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