Characteristics that help coral bounce back

New report outlines features that make a reef able to deal with environmental stress

A host of factors, including type of coral, amount of algae and water clarity, may affect how well different coral reefs will cope with climate change, says a new report released May 20 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The report — Resilience Assessment of Coral Reefs: Rapid assessment protocol for coral reefs, focusing on coral bleaching and thermal stress — outlines more than 40 indicators for determining a coral reef’s ability to handle environmental stress.

Carl Gustaf Lundin of the IUCN said during a press conference held at the time of the report’s release that the findings could help scientists develop management techniques to increase coral survival.

“We looked at existing features of the reef, and at what helps the reef to recover,” Lundin said.

Climate change can destroy coral reefs through bleaching and through acidification of the oceans. But the new report suggests that coral reef damage depends not only on climate change, but also on the ability of the reef to handle and bounce back from stress.

“Some reefs, like those in the Red Sea, have evolved to withstand high temperatures and will be more resilient to climate change,” said Gabriel Grimsditch, also of the IUCN.

Knowing more about how different reefs would be affected by climate change will help scientists figure out strategies for protecting the most vulnerable reefs, Lundin said.

CORAL DOWN, NOT OUT Climate change is causing ocean acidification, which can in turn lead to coral bioerosion (shown). A new report outlines features of reefs that can make them more or less vulnerable to such environmental changes. OAR/National Undersea Research Program