News Stories

The Future of Coral

Both hope & despair - Hopes have grown dimmer that coral reefs might be able to survive (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), and recover from, bleaching caused by climate change may have grown dimmer for certain coral species, so it's wonderful news that a huge area of reefs with deep-sea corals has been discovered in the Mediterranean, off the shore of Israel.

During the past two decades, coral reefs, known as the rain forests of the sea for their incredible biological diversity, have suffered bleaching events due to high water temperatures and light levels that cause them to literally "spit out" the algae which provide their sustenance. Severe bleaching can lead to coral death. In recent years, though, it has been reported that some corals appear to respond to rising sea temperatures by acquiring new stress-tolerant algae from the environment, which could allow them to survive the warmer oceans caused by climate change, but new research shows that while hard corals can take up this algae, they may not be able to sustain the relationship with them over a long period of time.

Researcher Mary Alice Coffroth says, "Our findings suggest that not all corals can maintain a long-term symbiosis with these stress-tolerant strains of algae. If they can't take up the stress-tolerant algae, or if they take them up but can't maintain the symbiosis with them, as we found, then they likely won't be able to adapt rapidly enough to survive global warming." The demise of coral reefs deprives fish of food and shelter, which reduces reef fish populations and marine diversity.

Thank goodness a whole new area of coral reefs has been discovered. Researcher Yizhaq Makovsky says, "It's like finding a flourishing oasis in the middle of the desert." Makovsky used an exploration vessel called the Nautilus to navigate the ocean floor for two and a half weeks, during which time the ship's robots plunged far down into the depths of the Mediterranean, off the coast of Tel Aviv. He says, "We did not expect, know, or even imagine that we would come across these reefs and certainly not such large ones." The newly-discovered reefs stretch for miles underwater.

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