Climate change’s coral effect to be studied

  • A view of the reefs off North Shore (Photograph supplied by Andrew Collins)

Researchers are to launch a new study to find out if Bermuda’s coral can adapt to climate change.

Samantha de Putron and Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science have teamed up with Hollie Putnam of the University of Rhode Island for the investigation.

The researchers plan to look at how corals adapt genetically to a changing climate.

Studies have shown that “stressors” like warmer or more acidic water can cause coral to eject the algae that usually lives inside it.

Because the algae provides the coral with food and colour, the coral turns pale white in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

Coral reefs can recover, but the longer stressful conditions continue the higher the likelihood the coral will die.

Dr Putnam told URI Today some coral offspring perform better when their parents have been preconditioned to higher temperatures or greater acidity.

She said: “Depending on the duration and timing of the stressor, we don’t know if the result will always be positive or how it may vary between species.

“We’ll be testing different coral species and a variety of temperature exposures.”

Dr de Putron said: “Our research asks will the current generation of corals be better able to cope with stress as they continue to experience it? And will the next generation of corals be adapted to the environmental conditions experienced by their parents?”

The study, funded by Pembroke International Ltd, is expected to continue until 2020.

A new outdoor laboratory will be built at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences in St George’s as part of the project.

The laboratory will allow scientists to provide high-resolution control of environmental factors including temperature and acidity.

The three investigators plan to publish the results in open access journals, as well as present it at international conferences such as the 2020 International Coral Reef Symposium.