Science

Scientists discover bleach-resistant coral that could 'save' Great Barrier Reef

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Marine biologists working in the Red Sea have discovered a type of coral that could be resistant to the stresses of climate change.

Australian scientists say there's new hope for the Great Barrier Reef following the discovery of a type of coral that could be resistant to climate change-induced bleaching.

In the Gulf of Aqaba, west of the Arabian mainland, a team of researchers from Switzerland and Israel has been monitoring the decline of the world's coral populations.

"Water temperatures are rising fast and this is stressing the corals to the point where they die," said
Professor Anders Meibom of the Swiss Federal Institute Of Technology.

 

"At this rate of decline there will be not many reefs left on this planet already at the end of this century."

But the coral in the Red Sea is different. The team placed specimens of the Stylophora pistillata coral into tanks, where they're exposed to rising temperatures and sub-optimal PH levels.

"Most of the variables that we measured, such as energy metabolism or building a skeleton, were actually improved," said researcher Thomas Krueger.

"It suggests these corals are living under suboptimal temperatures right now and might be better prepared for future ocean warming."

Scientists believe the reason the coral is not only surviving, but thriving in the stress tests, is that the coral in the Gulf of Aqaba is highly evolved due to the historical extreme changes of the climate in the region.

The ramifications of the discovery could be significant.

Associate Professor David Suggett from the Future Reefs Program at the University of Technology Sydney said the discovery could indicate a different future for the world's coral populations.

"All these kind of discoveries are really exciting," he said. "What we're starting to learn is that corals are surviving in waters that are really hot, really acidic, have very little oxygen and these are the conditions we've predicted under climate change."

Last year, Australian scientists reported that an 800 kilometre stretch of the Great Barrier Reef had died due to high water temperatures - the worst deterioration on record.

Next month, Associate Professor Suggett will lead an expedition in the Great Barrier Reef in the hopes of discovering similarly resilient forms of coral in Australian waters.

"If we can find these resilient populations at least it gives us options in terms of potentially restoring the reef and aiding resilience and recovery," he said.

The ability to re-seed part of the dying reef with more-resistant coral is so far untested, but it's a prospect scientists describe as a game-changer.

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