Isolated coral reefs can regrow after bleaching

Neighbors unnecessary for recovery

Lonely coral reefs aren’t doomed to die alone. Isolated reefs can bounce back from serious injury despite their lack of helpful neighbors, researchers report in the April 5 Science.

ON THE MEND After a harmful bleaching event, these corals in Scott Reef in Australia recovered even without neighboring reefs to fuel new growth. Courtesy of N. Thake

Bleaching strips reefs of colorful life-supporting microalgae and leaves the coral vulnerable to invasive algae and death. Scientists had thought that reefs could recover only after young new corals from neighboring, healthy reefs settled in.

But in the Scott Reef in Australia — which suffered bleaching in 1998 and stands more than 250 kilometers from other reefs — corals have grown back just fine, reports a team led by James Gilmour of the University of Western Australia Oceans Institute in Perth. Isolation may protect corals from harmful human activities, the team suggests, and allow surviving remnants to flourish.

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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