In grave­yard of dead coral in Pa­cific, hope and life bloom

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

WASH­ING­TON: In a ghost town of dead coral off a re­mote Pa­cific is­land, sci­en­tists have found a bit more life. In ex­cur­sions a year ago and then last April, sci­en­tists ex­am­ined the nor­mally stun­ning coral reefs around the is­land of Kir­iti­mati and pro­nounced it mostly a bone­yard of dead coral. About 85 per­cent of the coral was dead, 10 per­cent was sick and bleached but still tech­ni­cally alive, and only 5 per­cent was do­ing OK. The same sci­en­tists re­turned this month and found that 6 to 7 per­cent of the coral is alive and not bleached, said University of Vic­to­ria coral reef sci­en­tist Ju­lia Baum, speak­ing by Skype from the is­land.

“We left with a sense of dread and came back with a re­newed pur­pose be­cause there are some corals that lit­er­ally came back from the brink,” said Ge­or­gia Tech cli­mate sci­en­tist Kim Cobb, who re­turned from the ex­pe­di­tion ear­lier. “It’s the best we could have hoped for.” Many of the fish that rely on the reef and had been ab­sent seem to be back, Cobb said.

Hot wa­ter - mostly from El Nino, the nat­u­ral oc­ca­sional warm­ing of the Pa­cific that changes weather world­wide, and man-made global warm­ing - had made the area one of the worst hit coral spots in the world. Later, nearby Jarvis Is­land was even more dam­aged. And the death of 85 per­cent of the coral of the bet­ter known and much larger Great Bar­rier Reef has been re­ported, said C. Mark Eakin, coral reef watch co­or­di­na­tor for the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“But de­spite this mass mor­tal­ity, there are a few small signs of hope,” Baum said. “It’s clear that coral reefs have great re­silience and the coral here is try­ing to re­cover.” Not only has some of the bleached coral re­cov­ered, she said, but “there are coral ba­bies that have set­tled on the reef some­time in the last year to year and half and these are the reef’s best hope for re­cov­ery.” A study pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy goes back more than a mil­lion years and finds that even dur­ing mass die-offs, coral species are able to re­bound.

Eakin points to Scott reef off west­ern Aus­tralia where 12 years af­ter the dam­ag­ing 1998 El Nino coral die-off, nearly half the orig­i­nal reef re­vived. But it was dam­aged again by the re­cent El Nino. Even af­ter the re­cov­ery seen at Kir­iti­mati, Baum is wary: “It’s like hav­ing a pa­tient who is very sick and in­stead of let­ting them re­cover we keep in­fect­ing them with more and more ill­nesses. There’s only so much that any per­son - or any nat­u­ral sys­tem can take.”

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