Monday, April 28, 2008

Will corals survive the stormy future?

Science Daily: Hurricanes and storms limit the ability of corals in Belize to “recruit” new coral into their communities, according to an Earthwatch-supported study published in Marine Environmental Research. “Increasing evidence now shows that storms are becoming more intense due to climate change,” said lead author and Earthwatch scientist Dr. James Crabbe from the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.

Coral reefs—which can grow to be thousands of years old—form and grow when free-swimming coral larvae in the ocean attach to rocks or other hard surfaces and begin to develop. Intense storms can wipe out this “recruitment” process. “Storms threaten the survival of the entire reef itself,” said Crabbe, who found similar results in another Earthwatch-supported study in Jamaica a few years ago. The new study will appear in the May issue of Marine Environmental Research.

“If the storms don’t destroy corals outright, they render them more susceptible to disease, and that is certainly apparent on the Belize reefs,” said Crabbe, who is doing a lecture tour related to this work throughout 2008—deemed the International Year of the Reef by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). The study holds implications for marine park managers, Crabbe said. “They may need to assist coral recruitment and settlement [in hurricane years] by establishing coral nurseries and then placing the baby corals (larvae) in the reef at discrete locations” or by setting up artificial reef blocks to help the corals survive….

Coral in Belize, shot by "Josh from New Rochelle," Flickr, via Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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