An international team of experts presents their discovery of 38 coral reefs located in the Pacific and the Caribbean that are resilient to climate change.
According to the scientists, these thriving ecosystems proved that there remain "kernels of hope" that impacts of climate change are surmountable and may be reversible.
'Escape,' 'Resist,' And 'Rebound'
The team developed a system that helped them identify coral reefs, which are either "escaping," "resisting," or "rebounding" amid environmental factors that have destroyed other coral reefs.
The method they used is similar to the approach utilized for public health-related surveys. It involved finding communities of corals that are more resilient than their neighboring ecosystems.
Through the discovery of these "oases" of thriving coral reefs, experts could hopefully understand how other dying corals could be protected from impacts of climate change. Furthermore, insights from the study could be applied to other conservation efforts.
The study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on June 18, describes the "escaping" coral reefs as the ones that were able to avoid bleaching, predatory sea stars, and even hurricanes.
"Resisting" coral reefs are the ones that are continuously battling and winning the fight against environmental factors. "Rebounding" coral reefs, meanwhile, are the ones that were beaten by climate change or other destructible forces but were able to recover.
The team hopes that its findings will create a precedent where future studies will explore how these oases of coral reefs have survived and how other coral communities could replicate their exceptional resilience.
"Coral reefs are in rapid, global decline but the severity of degradation is not uniform across the board," said James Guest, lead author of the study and a researcher from the Newcastle University in the UK.
"What we have identified are coral reefs that are doing better than their neighbors against the worst effects of climate change and local impacts."
Moorea In French Polynesia
The team studied coral communities in the Carribean, in the Pacific, and in Moorea in French Polynesia. Peter Edmunds, the principal investigator for the study and a researcher from the California State University Northridge, was especially "blown away" with what he witnessed in Moorea.
In 2005, sea stars had been gravely preying on the Moorea reefs. By 2010, almost all corals in the region were devoured by the predators.
However, from 2010 to 2018, the Moorea reefs were able to bounce back as if they were not damaged after all. Live corals have since been covering 80 percent of the seafloor.
"It is a remarkable example of an oasis," Edmunds said.
Oases Of Coral Reefs
Guest highlighted that the team's findings have yet to pinpoint the exact reason why these coral reefs are resilient to climate change. Different factors are under consideration.
It could be that deeper water horizon, far from storm tracks, protected these corals from damages. It could also be that they possess biological or ecological properties that make them capable of fighting disturbances or come back to life after being destroyed.
Nevertheless, the team cautioned that while its discovery may offer a glimmer of hopes that climate change is beatable, it should not create complacency. Instead, the study should serve as a starting point for further studies on how to restore coral reefs and mitigate climate change.