Rising sea temperatures boost coral growth

Warmer sea temperatures have been promoting faster coral growth along the coast of Western Australia, federal government research has found.

However, the world’s oceans may soon be so warm and acidic that this trend is reversed, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) said in a statement on Friday.

The research body conducted a reef study along 1000km of WA coast comparing calcification (coral skeleton) growth rates over the past 110 years. It found that recent ocean warming was boosting coral growth rates, especially in southern waters where relative temperature rises had been greatest, and that there was no evidence of a widespread decline in Australia’s western coral reefs.

However, the institute warned that both rising ocean temperatures and acidification would pose “serious long-term threats to coral reefs”.

“Some corals in some locations are able to keep up with these changes, whilst others are already showing that the temperature changes have exceeded optimal conditions for coral growth,” former AIMS research scientist Tim Cooper said.

AIMS senior principal research scientist Janice Lough added: “We are now in an era of rapid environmental change for the world’s coral reefs and this study provides another line of evidence that coral reefs are sensitive to these changes.

“Coral calcification rates are clearly responding in the short term to temperatures, but in the longer term these responses will be compounded by the progressive impacts of ocean acidification.

“Limiting the magnitude of these rapid environmental changes is fundamental to providing coral reefs, as we know them, with a future.”

The AIMS findings were recently published in the international journal Science.

The institute is currently building a $35 million National Sea Simulator in Townsville that will enable scientists to regulate temperature, acidity, salinity, sedimentation and contaminants in large volumes to simulate future environmental impacts on coral reefs.

Perth Now, 3 February 2012. Article.

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