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Back From The Dead: Giant Coral Reef That ‘Died’ In 2003 Teeming With Life Again

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Back From The Dead

Giant Coral Reef That ‘Died’ In 2003 Teeming With Life Again

In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead. Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find the giant coral reef once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record? This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life. –Karen Weintraub, The New York Times, 15 August 2016
 

 

In 1998, a heatwave, which raised ocean temperatures, had caused corals worldwide to go a deathly white – a process called bleaching – and die. The single bleaching event of 1998 killed nearly 16% of the world’s corals. When Dr Peter Mumby had visited Tivaru on the Rangiroa lagoon six months later, he’d found a vast majority of the region’s prolific Porites coral, normally the hardiest of coral species, had followed suit. Based on the known growing rates for the species, Mumby predicted it would take the Porites nearly 100 years to recover, not 15. “Our projections were completely wrong,” he says. “Sometimes it is really nice to be proven wrong as a scientist, and this was a perfect example of that.” –Jane Palmer, BBC, 6 September 2014
 
 
 
1) Giant Coral Reef That ‘Died’ In 2003 Teeming With Life Again
The New York Times, 15 August 2016
 
2) The Corals That Come Back From The Dead
BBC, 6 September 2014
 
3) Some Climate Scientists Predict Global Temps To Keep On Rising Despite La Nina Cooling
CNN, 17 August 2016
 
4) Some Climate Scientists Are Concerned La Nina May Usher In New Warming Hiatus
Reuters, 17 August 2016
 
5) Hottest Year? Record Breaking Grain & Corn Harvests In Russia And U.S.
Global Warming Policy Forum 17 August 2016

 
 
 
With ocean temperatures expected to increase an additional 1 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next century, scientists estimate such disasters to become more frequent. Eventually, they predict the majority of the world’s corals will bleach and die. But some corals aren’t complying with their death sentence. The 1998 heatwave also bleached and killed corals on the outer exposed reefs of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. But by 2005 they’d made a full recovery. “We are learning rapidly about coral reefs that there is a lot that we didn’t know,” Gilmour says. –Jane Palmer, BBC, 6 September 2014
 
 
Within the past week, the United State government’s Climate Prediction Center said there was a 55% to 60% chance of a La Nina weather pattern developing in the second half of the year. What would the effects of La Nina be globally? The surge in global temperatures, driven by climate change and a strong El Nino, could begin to slow under a La Nina pattern, Santoso said, but not completely and not until next year. “When we have an El Nino it’s going to rise (and) if it’s La Nina the rise will be weaker … but given the background warming has been accelerating we will still see an increase in temperature but it won’t be as rapid as what we’re seeing in 2015,” he said. “Next year I would expect the rise to be subdued, but still rising.” —CNN, 17 August 2016
 
 
“Next year is probably going to be cooler than 2016,” said Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. He added there was no sign of a strong La Nina, El Nino’s opposite that can cool the planet. “If 2017 is cooler, there will probably be some climate skeptics surfing on this information,” said Jean-Noel Thepaut, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service at the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. “One thing that the scientific community needs to be careful about is that they are not gearing up for a new ‘hiatus’ event,” said Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Energy Research in Oslo. –Alister Doyle, Reuters, 17 August 2016 
 
 
 
1) Giant Coral Reef That ‘Died’ In 2003 Teeming With Life Again
The New York Times, 15 August 2016
 
Karen Weintraub
 
In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead. Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find the giant coral reef once again teeming with life.

 


A giant clam in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Credit Craig Cook/Undersea Medical   

 

 

On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.
 
Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?
 
This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life.
 
“Everything looked just magnificent,” said Jan Witting, the expedition’s chief scientist and a researcher at Sea Education Association, based in Woods Hole, Mass.

 


Divers from the New England Aquarium surveying reefs in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area last September. Credit Craig Cook/Undersea Medical   

 
Global climate change is wreaking havoc on corals worldwide. Coral bleaching has caused extensive damage to regions extending from the Great Barrier Reef to the Caribbean and nearly everywhere in between.
 
“Threats to tropical coral reefs worldwide have escalated to a level that imperils the survival of these complex, diverse and beautiful ecosystems,” Janice M. Lough, an Australian researcher, wrote in a February opinion piece in Nature.
 
Coral can be severely damaged by rising water temperatures, which cause acidification, as well as by pollution and human activity like tourism, fishing and shipping – prompting some governments to restrict such activities.
 
If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
 
No one actually knows what drives reef resilience or even what a coral reef looks like as it is rebounding. In remote, hard-to-get-to places, our understanding of coral is roughly akin to a doctor’s knowing only what a patient looks like in perfect health and after death, Dr. Rotjan said.
 
Coral Castles’s revival might be an isolated situation, a fluke in a faraway place. But Dr. Rotjan and her team are on a quest to find out why this coral and other reefs nearby came back to life.
 
Full story
 
See also
 
Great Barrier Reef: scientists ‘exaggerated’ coral bleaching
 
Researchers find corals in Northern Australia healed themselves in just 12 years

Coral Reefs Begin to Recover in the Maldives
 
 
 
2) The Corals That Come Back From The Dead
BBC, 6 September 2014
 
Jane Palmer

In an astonishing and unexpected revival, dubbed the ‘Phoenix Effect’, reefs around the world are returning to life
 
Last year, marine biologist Peter Mumby took a dive into the Rangiroa lagoon, in French Polynesia. What he saw shocked him so much he thought he might be lost.
 
He’d expected to be surrounded by death, by a reef of dying coral whose skeletons were slowly crumbling into the sea. Instead, majestic, olive-green Porites corals, the size of large hippos, carpeted the sea floor, providing a playground for parrotfishes and the occasional shark that weaved between the cauliflower-shaped giants.
 
“I was absolutely astonished and delighted,” says Mumby, a professor at the Marine Spatial Ecology Lab of the University of Queensland, Australia.
 

Bleached Acropora species of coral (credit: Georgette Douwma / NPL)
Bleached Acropora species of coral (credit: Georgette Douwma / NPL)
 
He had good reason to be. In 1998, a heatwave, which raised ocean temperatures, had caused corals worldwide to go a deathly white – a process called bleaching – and die.
 
When Mumby had visited Tivaru on the Rangiroa lagoon six months later, he’d found a vast majority of the region’s prolific Porites coral, normally the hardiest of coral species, had followed suit. Based on the known growing rates for the species, Mumby predicted it would take the Poritesnearly 100 years to recover, not 15.
 
“Our projections were completely wrong,” he says. “Sometimes it is really nice to be proven wrong as a scientist, and this was a perfect example of that.”
 
Mumby’s discovery marks a high point spot in the scientific community’s research into, and gloomy prognosis for, coral reefs around the world. The single bleaching event of 1998 killed nearly 16% of the world’s corals.
 
The damage is caused when the heat forces the corals to expel symbiotic algae living in their tissues, turning the corals white. Corals usually rely on the algae to convert sunlight to energy.
 
With ocean temperatures expected to increase an additional 1 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next century, scientists estimate such disasters to become more frequent. Eventually, they predict the majority of the world’s corals will bleach and die.
 
But some corals aren’t complying with their death sentence.
 
The 1998 heatwave also bleached and killed corals on the outer exposed reefs of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. But by 2005 they’d made a full recovery.
 
James Gilmour, a coral ecologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, in Crawley, Western Australia, also watched his research site, Scott Reef, in the Kimberly region of northwestern Australia, make a robust recovery from the 1998 heatwave. The site has since survived a category-five cyclone and further bleaching events in 2010 and 2011 (see video below of a bleached Scott Reef credit: J. Gilmour).
 
“We are learning rapidly about coral reefs that there is a lot that we didn’t know,” Gilmour says.
 
Mumby concurs. “It makes us realise that some corals have a number of strategies to cope with stress that we don’t understand very well,” he says. “That is good news and we now need to understand exactly how they do it.”
 
Rising from the ashes
 
“The Phoenix Effect” is a term coined in 1992 by David Krupp, a coral researcher based in Hawaii. He used it to describe how some corals can spring back to life from an almost imperceptible fragment of themselves.
 
But typically scientists have only seen the Phoenix Effect in certain species known as disc corals, including those in the Fungia,Cycloseris and Ctenactis genera. It wasn’t thought possible in the Porites corals that Mumby studies.
 
Full story

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