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A New Hope for the World’s Coral Reefs

By Sodavy Ou

Over the years, scientists have released countless research results demonstrating the detrimental impacts of increased temperature and atmospheric CO2 on coral reefs that serve as important habitats to numerous marine organisms. These scientific results show that there is much to be done if the international community wants to avoid a 2° C or a 35.6° F increase in the Earth temperature—a threshold at which global warming is irreversible. Already, we have seen major declines in coral coverage in numerous parts of the oceans. For instance, scientists have recorded major declines in coral coverages in the Great Barrier Reef due to increased temperatures and ocean acidification, a process that results from increased atmospheric CO2. However, among these disheartening stories there are a few encouraging stories of corals adapting to the effects of global warming. The telling of these stories, however few, is important in order to fuel and continue the efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming.


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Another study by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies also demonstrates that Staghorn corals are capable of adapting to ocean acidification. This study found that over a relative short period—approximately 9 days—juvenile Staghorn corals can acclimate to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 level and can re-adjust their gene expression to pre-exposure levels. However, this study only tested one stressor, ocean acidification. Still, it is refreshing to know that some corals are capable of adapting to some of the changing ocean conditions.


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Despite these encouraging studies, there are some species of coral that are struggling to survive as the oceans become more acidic and warmer. The composition of the world coral reefs may look very different in the future. Nevertheless, since corals provide important habitats to countless marine organisms, it is promising to know that some of these corals can continue to serve our oceans. In the end, these promising results will only remain if we continue to address global warming with innovative plans and actions.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in southern California. She received her BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She will be starting her Master’s Program in Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. She spent more than half of her life living by the coast; it’s only natural that she is a lover of the outdoors. 

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