Scientists see a glimmer of hope for coral reefs hit by bleaching

The deep water coral Montastraea cavernosa. Image: John Reed

Science may have found a way to help those managing the impact of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, according to a report commissioned by the United Nations.

The world’s coral reefs have been hit by bleaching said to be caused by warmer sea waters and exacerbated by the El Nino weather event.

The 35 authors of the United Nations Environmental Program review, including Elaine Baker, the UNESCO Chair in Marine Science at the University of Sydney, say part of the reef ecosystem may survive in deeper waters, known as mesophotic coral ecosystems.

Coral reefs of up to 40 metres in depth are just the tip of the ocean’s extensive coral ecosystem. Intermediate depth reefs start at 40 metres down and continue to about 150 metres.

The report released at the United Nations Environment Assembly UNEA-2 in Nairobi looks at the role these deeper reefs could play in the preservation of shallower corals.

“Mesophotic coral ecosystems are a seed bank for some organisms,” says Professor Baker.

However, more research needs to be done to firmly establish their role in preserving reefs.

“They aren’t a silver bullet but they may be able to resist the most immediate impacts of climate change, thereby providing a refuge for some species and potentially helping to replenish destroyed surface reef and fish populations,” she says.

The review found some deep mesophotic coral ecosystems may be less vulnerable to the most extreme ocean warming.

Here’s footage of deep water reefs:

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