Can A Volcanic Island Off The Coast Of Japan Help Protect Coral From Damage?

19 April 2017, 12:32 am EDT By Anu Passary Tech Times
Researchers have pinned their hopes on Japan’s Shikine Island seabed in a bid to find clues for coral survival. Corals worldwide have experienced massive bleaching due to rise in ocean temperatures and could become extinct.  ( Joe Raedel | Getty Images )

Coral reefs all around the world are in the process of being wiped out due to climatic changes and the rise in ocean temperatures. Australia's Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing its second consecutive year of coral bleaching

Scientists believe that the prospect of saving the world's largest coral reef from destruction look slim. However, a small volcanic island off the cost of Japan, could be the glimmer of hope for environmentalists and nature lovers who are fighting to save the coral from extinction.

Shikine Island Seabed: Can It Stop Coral Extinction?

Shikine Island's seabed has been dubbed a "living laboratory" by researchers who are looking for possible clues in the area, which may aid them in saving the threatened coral reefs.

The researchers of a French-led expedition, who are aboard the dingy Tara, are studying the less alkaline waters of the Shikine Island seabed. The researchers are optimistic that this study will aid them in understanding how marine life, including coral, survive in mildly alkaline waters. This would possibly offer them clues on how to safeguard coral reefs from the detrimental impact of climate change.

Even though coral reefs occupy less than 0.2 percent of the ocean's surface worldwide, they are home to roughly 30 percent plant and marine animal species.

"Losing these reefs would be horrifying," said Sylvain Agostini, one of the coordinators of the expedition and a professor at University of Tsukuba in Japan.

Shikine's water have a unique condition thanks to the presence of underwater volcanoes. The eruptions from these volcanoes flood some of the coves in Shikine's seabed with carbon dioxide, making the waters less alkaline.

According to scientists, these conditions mimic what will be the effect of unrestrained carbon emissions in the oceans by 2100.

Basically, the carbon dioxide build-up in the seabed — which is because of the emission of greenhouse gases, or volcanic activity in the water — the water temperature gets increased, altering the composition of the ocean waters. This process is called acidification.

The researchers reveal that some parts of the Shikine Island seabed, which is located 100 miles south of Tokyo, are home to a wide variety of marine wildlife, including coral. The coral thrive in the seabed despite the water's alkaline composition. This bears testimony to the fact that marine life can prosper even in less alkaline water.

The survival of coral in alkaline waters has lured the scientists to study the conditions in the Shikine Island seabed. The researchers are optimistic that they may find answers, which would aid them in preventing coral extinction.

How Will The Researchers Proceed?

Maggy Nugues, one of the researchers onboard Tara, shared that this is the first time she is looking at a large-scale decline in coral reefs. Nugues has been studying coral for the last two decades.

The researches onboard the Tara are eager to learn how an underwater ecosystem, which includes fish, plankton, seaweed, and coral is able to survive in Shikine Island's inhospitable waters. Initial comparisons of waters from another bay on Shikine, which has dissimilar conditions, suggests that coral fare much better in alkaline water.

The current expedition will continue for two years and eventually head toward New Zealand and Australia, before making its way to Philippines and Indonesia.

The researchers share that this is not the first time Earth's climate has seen drastic changes, but earlier the flora and fauna learned to adapt. However, the current speed of climate change, owing to human activity, is faster and is making it difficult for creatures to adapt.

"The planet has evolved under relatively stable conditions, letting organisms and animals adapt. But here we're speeding things up, maybe faster than nature's clock," remarked Nugues

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