Climate Impact on Caribbean Coral Reefs May Be Mitigated If…

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Diego Arguedas Ortiz (Inter Press Service) writes about the remote possibilities of seeing positive results from various efforts to reverse the effects of global warming. At least, there is a glimmer of hope:

A few dozen metres from the Caribbean beach of Puerto Vargas, where you can barely see the white foam of the waves breaking offshore, is the coral reef that is the central figure of the ocean front of the Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica. Puerto Vargas is known for the shrinking of its once long beach, as a result of erosion. The coast has lost dozens of metres in a matter of a few years, which has had an effect on tourists and on the nesting of sea turtles that used to come to lay their eggs.

Just as the beaches have been affected, there have been effects under water, in this area of the eastern province of Limón, which runs along the country’s Caribbean coast from north to south. “The impact of the rise in sea level and changes in temperatures also affect the coral ecosystems,” Patricia Madrigal, Costa Rica’s vice minister of environment, told IPS.

[. . .] The most visible effect is the coral bleaching phenomenon, which is a clear symptom that corals are sick. This happens when corals experience stress and expel a photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, which live in their tissues, producing oxygen in a symbiotic relationship. The algae are responsible for the colors of coral reefs, so when they are expelled, the reefs turn white, and the coral is destined to die.

[. . .] As the average sea level rises, it is more likely for the threshold to be reached, but even before that point it is also dangerous for coral. Stopping global warming does not guarantee a future for coral reefs, but it does give them better opportunities.

A possible way forward is being developed by the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Summerland Key, in the U.S. state of Florida, where researchers are growing corals in controlled environments to later reintroduce them in the ocean, as is done with seedlings from a greenhouse in reforestation efforts. “We can actually test to see which would have a given resistance to future conditions and in that way build a stronger ecosystem of survivors for what the next years might bring,” Dave Vaughan, the head of the lab, told IPS in an interview by phone.

The team headed by Vaughan reintroduced 20,000 small corals to degraded areas of the reefs, in a process that will accelerate the recovery of these ecosystems. In 2015, the lab received an investment of 5.1 million dollars to make Vaughan´s ambition possible: reintroducing one million coral fragments in the next five to ten years. However, Vaughan himself admits that this is a mitigation measure to buy time. The real task to fight against climate change is reducing the emissions that cause the greenhouse effect. “Coral restoration can give us a 10, 50 or 100 years head start, but eventually if the oceans continue to rise in temperature, there’s not too much hope,” he said.

[Photo above: A reef in an underwater mountain area in Coiba National Park, Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.]

For full article, see http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-impact-on-caribbean-coral-reefs-may-be-mitigated-if/

For more information, see https://mote.org/

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