A Glimpse of Hope: The “Super Corals” of Hawaii

By Ryan Johnson

Corals are considered not only as one of the most important creatures in oceans for they do not only add beauty to it but they also provide homes for different marine animals especially fish. In fact, a small percent of coral reefs envelops the ocean bed and supports 30% of known marine species. However, due to various environmental issues such as overfishing and climate change that cause the water to become warmer and acidic the population of these corals are in threat. The UN’s international panel on climate change alerted that 70-90% of Earth’s coral reef will be wiped out due to 1.5 ᵒC of global warming.

Even though the issue regarding the decreasing population of corals is a great concern, a silver lining is still there. Researchers from Hawaii recovered “super corals” that have been living in a warm and acidic environment and give a ray of hope in saving dying corals around the globe.

“It’s unfortunately but inevitably true that things are going to get worse for reefs over the next 20-30 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable” said Jury, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

“We can still turn this thing around and end up getting back to better than what we have today within a reasonable time frame,” he told AFP.

The research study lead by Jury shows that coral can live and survive in a warmer and acidic environment than where it usually lives, according to News 24.

Jury studied coral reefs in Hawaii’s Kane’ohe Bay that were devastated between 1930s and 197os due to urbanization, coastal development, dredging, and the discharge of sewage which leads to the 70% decreased of the shallow coral cover across the bay and more than 90% decreased in the southern bay which is near the sewage output. Nonetheless, by late 1970s the coral reef began to retrieve because of the diversion of the sewage. The recovery of the corals was able to occur even the Kane’ohe Bay has warmer and acidic water.

The water condition in Kane’ohe Bay is not considered a good environment for the corals. Furthermore, the state of the water there is seen to be what the other parts of Hawaii may develop in the future with the progress of climate change. Despite this fact, it is still good to know that the Kane’ohe Bay shows the highest percentage coral recovery of 50-90% after the sewage removal among the other islands in Hawaii as reported in the study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal.

“The key was that the coral populations in Kane’ohe Bay naturally harbor a lot of “super corals”, which can thrive in moderately warmer, more acidic conditions”

“So once the sewage pollution was removed those super corals swiftly came in an drove the reefs to a rapid recovery,” Jury said.

Two things are found to be involved in the recovery of coral. First is because of the growth in the remaining coral while the other one is recruitment where the larval coral floating along like seeds find a suitable environment and settle. According to Jury, it seems that larval coral came not only from the bay but also in some other parts of Hawaii. It is also suspected that these super corals exist in other places except places that are less acidic and cooler.

“Our thinking is that this bay is giving us a glimpse into the future where the corals that are at a disadvantage today have the advantage tomorrow,” Jury said. Additionally, it is not yet confirmed if these corals can be used or replaced shattered coral reefs.

“Even the very tough corals from Kane’ohe Bay die under the temperatures they’ll see in a few decades if we don’t substantially reduce climate change” he warned.

“If we take the necessary steps now then we will begin to see reestablishment by corals during our lifetime, and our children and grandchildren will be able to witness the recovery of the coral reefs during theirs because we make the decision that reefs are worth saving” he added.

The existence and survival of the ‘super coral’ depend on the hands of humans. Reduction of the pollution present in water is a great help not only on the creatures in water but also to all the living creatures on earth.