With ongoing threats that most coral reefs in the world face, scientists are finding ways to save them. Emerging science suggests that "assisted evolution" could be the solution to protecting the corals from damage.
Coral reefs protect a wide array of marine species by providing them with a home. However, reef health is in continuous decline as a result of human-induced global warming, which has altered marine ecosystems and robbed species of their natural habitat.
The temperature of water is directly proportional to its acidity. As warming waters in the ocean increase its temperature, acidic levels also surge and, as a result, bleaching and weakening of corals occurs.
In fact, the researchers said that around 60 to 80 percent of corals in Kaneohe Bay, off the northeast coast of Oahu, have been bleached this year.
Scientists will venture into an experiment to grow evolved corals that could withstand warmer and more acidic waters that happen as a side effect of climate change.
"The bleaching has intensified and gotten much more serious," said Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and one of the proponents of the study. They are looking for healthy corals in the area to use in their experiment.
The team is transferring the healthy coral to its center on Hawaii's Coconut Island to slowly expose it to more stressful water which mimics the level of acidity and temperature of sea water influenced by climate change. They've also developed stronger and more resilient strains by cross-breeding the most resilient coral samples.
"We've given them experiences that we think are going to raise their ability to survive stress," Gates said. They are hoping that the corals will grow normally, reproduce and maintain their color when they are brought back to the sea.
The theory they wanted to test is called assisted evolution. Gates and her partner, Dr. Madeleine van Oppen, who does coral research at the Australia Institute of Marine Science, first proposed this study in the 2013 Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge, winning $10,000.
After winning, the foundation asked them to conduct a full-blown study with funding of $4 million. Further research will be conducted to ensure efficacy of their theory.