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Laboratory-Bred ‘Super Corals’ May Help Repopulate Disappearing Great Barrier Reef : Science : Tech Times

Ocean acidification and massive coral bleaching is destroying a part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs worldwide. Scientists are racing against time to save the dying reefs through the breeding of super corals.  ( Rob Garner | NASA )

Coral reefs are in danger of disappearing permanently due to decades of massive coral bleaching. The massive coral bleaching in 2016 has decimated almost a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef.

The anthropogenic carbon dioxide pumped into the sea is further damaging the reefs, prompting scientists to act quickly to build super corals.

Ocean acidification reduces the saturation state of aragonite minerals in coral skeletons. It also lowers the concentration of carbonate ions required to maintain the carbonate reef. The acidic ocean waters continue to threaten coral reefs that provide coastal protection.

In a part of the Great Barrier Reef – the One Tree Island located more than 60 miles away from Australian mainland – scientists created the world’s biggest soda stream to prove how carbon dioxide is extremely damaging the reef. The experiment’s objective was to simulate the effects that could happen 100 years from now, if these sea creatures continue to be exposed to carbon dioxide.

Ocean Acidification And Corals

According to the Ocean Portal of the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History, at least one-quarter of the carbon dioxide released by burning coal, oil, and gas doesn’t stay in the air, but instead dissolves into the ocean.

Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s oceans have absorbed some 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At present, 22 million tons of carbon dioxide is pumped into the ocean per day.

When carbon dioxide is dissolved in seawater, the water’s chemistry changes. The ocean water becomes more acidic. For the past 200 years, the acidity of ocean water increased by 30 percent, faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years.

Ocean acidification can interfere with the way marine organisms produce shells or plates from calcium carbonate. The increasing carbon dioxide in the ocean could be deadly for coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef.

For the experiment, the researchers filtered carbon dioxide through a tank from the higher tidal pond to build the convergence of carbon dioxide in the seawater streaming over the reef.

They estimated the rate of coral reef calcification or the development of more coral reef in some areas and contrasted the results before the soda stream experiment.

The study showed that carbon dioxide enrichment has lowered the coral reef’s calcification by 34 percent. Laboratory experiments of the same nature estimated the calcification sensitivity of corals to be between 15 and 28 percent.

Reduced calcification, coupled with increased bioerosion and dissolution, may drive reefs into a state of net loss this century according to the study.

How Super Corals Can Repopulate The Reef?

In the Great Barrier Reef, the Acropora tenuis are considered as super corals for surviving the impact of the bleaching.

Nine of the super coral colonies in the far northern corals are being bred at the National Sea Simulator while 99 live coral fragments are being analyzed for their biological make-up.

Scientists are attempting to grow super corals that are more tolerant to global warming which can help save and repopulate the world’s dwindling coral reefs.

At the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, researchers are stress-testing corals in a museum laboratory.

Nine aquariums of dying staghorn corals are being revived using algae to boost the corals’ thermal tolerance to survive the warming oceans.

“It’s a very tightly evolved partnership,” says Andrew Baker, an associate professor of marine biology and ecology at Rosenstiel.

“The corals have been with these algae for hundreds of millions of years and these algae are critical to understanding why coral reefs even exist in the first place because without these algae, corals can’t survive,” he said.

Some of the newly hardened corals have already been replanted off Key Biscayne island reef in Florida. 

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