Scientists on Hawaii’s Coconut Island are on a mission to cultivate super corals capable of withstanding the increasingly hot and acidic oceans associated with global warming. This innovative initiative arises as researchers worldwide express concerns about the deteriorating health of coral reefs, which not only serve as critical marine habitats but also act as protective barriers for coastlines and drive tourist economies.
When coral experiences stress due to changing environmental conditions, it expels the symbiotic algae within it, causing the coral to turn white or bright yellow, known as bleaching. According to Ruth Gates, Director of the Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, if the coral cannot recover from these bleaching events, the coral eventually dies. In fact, it’s estimated that around 60 to 80 percent of the coral in Kaneohe Bay has bleached this year alone.
Gates and her team are now taking resilient strains of coral to their research center on Coconut Island and subjecting them to slightly more stressful water conditions. This process involves bathing selected coral chunks in water mimicking warmer and more acidic oceans. They are also selectively breeding resilient strains to perpetuate these stronger traits in ‘super corals.’
The scientists aim to enhance these corals’ ability to survive stress and, once they have completed their experiments, transplant them back into the bay, with the hope that they will maintain their color, grow healthily, and reproduce. This innovative approach is an attempt to address the severe and extensive bleaching of coral reefs experienced globally.
Despite the challenges of scale and time, scientists believe that with sufficient effort and funding, the project can be scaled to address the global marine crisis threatening coral reefs. However, more research and experimentation are needed before this can be achieved.
Coral reefs are facing challenges due to climate change, and the initiative to cultivate super corals on Coconut Island may be a vital step in protecting these vital ecosystems. Nonetheless, researchers emphasize the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the root causes of climate change to safeguard coral reefs for the long term.