Coral reefs are the marine ecosystems that maintain the ocean’s biodiversity. Around 500 million people depend on them for food, livelihood, and protection against flood damage of rising sea levels or tsunamis. The rise of ocean temperature, the overflowing water pollution, and the lack of regulation on fishing are causing coral reefs to bleach. A study found that from 2014 to 2017, the ocean suffered a global heatwave that bleached 0 of all tropical ocean coral reefs, worrying conservationists, who are now hoping to find solutions to keep coral reefs alive.
Why do corals bleach?
Corals live in a symbiotic relationship with algae. Coral’s tissue serves as a shelter for algae, and algae give food, energy, and color in return to the coral. When ocean temperatures rise, and water is polluted, the algae dies, bleaching the coral because it stops receiving the algae’s nutrients. The bleaching does not kill the coral but makes it vulnerable to diseases that may cause their death.
Scientists from the University of Hawaii and Michigan State University noticed that some corals were more vulnerable than others from high ocean temperatures, so they continued to study the differences between the different types of corals. Their findings indicate a groundbreaking discovery that shows that the algae that live inside the coral hold a specific amount of lipids, varying on the coral species. Algaes with saturated lipids are less vulnerable to bleaching, while algae with unsaturated lipids bleach more easily with the rising ocean temperatures. This discovery will help conservationists restore coral reefs with more climate-resilient species to seed when restoring reefs.
“This work provides insight into the biochemical mechanisms of coral bleaching and presents a valuable new tool for resilience-based reef restoration” -Jenna Dilworth, one of the authors of the study.