Is there life after death for bleached coral reefs?
Research by Southern Cross University shows that it takes reefs about 9 to 12 years to recover from mass wipe-outs, with certain conditions speeding up the healing process.
The findings could be used to build extra resilience into the Great Barrier Reef, says lead researcher Marine Gouezo.
She studied how coral reefs in Palau – located near the Philippines – reassembled after a mass bleaching event in 1998.
Those that came back faster tended to have a good supply of coral larvae drifting in from nearby reefs, lots of parrotfish and not much fleshy algae.
The study is “one of the few long-term monitoring research projects of coral recovery, and it shows how coral communities can reassemble and recover about a decade after major disturbance events,” says team member Professor Peter Harrison.
The Great Barrier Reef may not get a full decade to recover following the recent mass bleachings of 2016 and 2017, since climate change is making these events more common.
“The key issue is to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions otherwise increasing temperatures and recurrent mass bleaching events will continue to decimate corals,” says Professor Harrison.
However, we may be able to help damaged reefs rebuild faster by releasing coral larvae in the worst-affected areas – something that Professor Harrison is currently trialing as part of his coral larval restoration project.
“Coral communities can recover,” he says.
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