Coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba.
(photo credit: Prof. Amatzia Genin, The Hebrew University)
Gulf of Aqaba corals can adjust themselves to climate conditions, surviving harsh climate change, and their offspring have the same capabilities, Bar-Ilan University researchers revealed.
The gulf, located in the Red Sea, is the only place where coral reefs do not suffer damage caused by the warming of oceans or acidification and are able to survive. The scientists uncovered that even when parent corals from the Gulf of Aqaba are exposed to high temperatures and stress from ocean acidification during peak reproductive peaks, they are able to continue functioning normally, having a similar reproductive output and producing offspring that are able to function in the same harsh environment.
Jessica Bellworthy, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Prof. Maoz Fine of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, carried out the study with a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne in Switzerland.
Researchers were able to recreate water conditions in Fine’s lab at a hi-tech aquarium facility of the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Science in Eilat, imitating oceanic conditions under the context of drastic climate change.
The results, along with previous studies, have shown that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba had healthy adult stages, leading the researchers to question the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on both their reproductivity and their offspring’s resistance to such pollution and high temperatures.
“Corals around the world are already suffering mass mortality as a result of anomalously high water temperatures,” Bellworthy said. “In the Gulf of Aqaba, we have noted a population that withstands thermal stress that is way beyond what is expected. Thermal resistance not only applies during the adult life phase, but also during the early life stages, which are often considered much more vulnerable.”
She said this may suggest that the Gulf of Aqaba is a spectacular location that protects corals exposed to climate change.
Researchers hope to pursue a study that examines global and other factors detrimental to the environment, such as pollution by heavy metals and warming of the oceans to probe how local factors effect entire coral reefs in the face of rising oceanic temperatures.