Scientists work to help coral by introducing warming-resistant algae
With reefs facing increasing threats from warmer and more acidic oceans, researchers are looking at ways to help corals by introducing heat resistant forms of zooxanthellae — the symbiotic algae that provides corals with sustenance — according to an article by Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post. High temperatures cause corals to expel the algae, resulting in higher incidence of disease and death among corals.
Andrew Baker, a University of Miami marine biologist, is about to embark on an experiment aimed at learning whether scientists can help corals adapt by providing them with symbiotic partners better prepared to cope with waters that are growing warmer largely because of the buildup of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
Some corals have evolved to do this on their own, over a long period of time: Now, researchers want to see if they can speed up the process.
“It’s controversial; it’s high risk,” Baker said last week. “But it’s really important we make the effort to try to show not only are we monitoring the situation, but we’re trying to do everything we can, literally, to make sure there are as many corals as possible left to save.”
Two weeks ago the Pew Institute for Ocean Science awarded Baker a three-year, $150,000 grant to “help identify the specific genetic and physiological factors that allow some corals to cope with warming better than others.”
Initially, Baker and his team of about 10 researchers will do their work in the lab, artificially bleaching corals and then adding cultured algae to the water to see if other zooxanthellae varieties can help the corals adapt to the temperature shift. Corals do not expire immediately after expelling their zooxanthellae, but if they do not find another algae partner quickly enough, they will die.