Coralporosis: ocean acidification leaves deep-sea coral reefs at risk of collapse

As we age, our skeletons often become riddled with osteoporosis, a disease in which the body loses too much bone. As a result, our hips and wrists become weak and may break. Could the same thing happen to the skeletons of coral reefs? Recent research says yes, and points to a weakening of deep-sea corals’ “bones” from ocean acidification.

The study, which advances efforts to understand how reefs of the future will look and what we can do to preserve them and the life they support, was published in Frontiers of Marine Science in September 2020. It was led by University of Edinburgh scientists, along with researchers from Heriot-Watt University and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme and several other funders.

“Ocean acidification is a threat to the net growth of tropical and deep-sea coral reefs due to gradual changes in the balance between reef growth and loss processes,” write lead author Sebastian Hennige of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences and his coauthors. “We go beyond identification of coral dissolution induced by ocean acidification to identify a mechanism that will lead to the loss of habitat in cold-water coral reef habitats on an ecosystem scale.” 

Lophelia pertusa coral in corrosive waters off Southern California Bight. Live coral is on exposed rock with no dead coral framework. Image credit: NOAA.

Dybas C., in press. Coralporosis: ocean acidification leaves deep-sea coral reefs at risk of collapse. Oceanography 34(2). Article.

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