Excess nutrients, coupled with climate change, damage the most highly resilient corals

Over the last 30 years, 50% of the world’s coral reefs have suffered significant damage due to climate change and acidification with the last three being the worst in reefs recent history. Major coral bleaching events, which transpire when water temperatures are too high, have occurred in the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean and parts of the Red Sea.

Despite this, scientists at Bar-Ilan University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Science in Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat have demonstrated in previous research that coral reefs in the north Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba, unlike in other parts of the world, are resilient to climate change and acidification due to the history of the red sea since the last glacial maximum.

While this is encouraging, there is growing concern that local disturbances, such as excess nutrients from sewage, fish farms, and flash floods may pose a threat to the coral refuge in the Gulf of Aqaba, a narrow body of water with a relatively dense human population around it. To address this concern the Israeli scientists joined forces with researchers from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and the University of Mississippi to determine how excess nutrients might negatively affect the coral reefs and reduce their resilience to climate change and acidification. Their results were just published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Using the Red Sea simulator, a system developed in Israel, the experimentalists altered the conditions in an 80-aquarium, high-tech facility at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Science and monitored the effects on the coral reefs that are incubated there. They conducted a simulation of future conditions in the Red Sea caused by global warming and acidification, while simultaneously increasing levels of nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate.

Bar-Ilan University (via Phys.org), 23 May 2018. Full press release.

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