In a study conducted by Lausanne University, Lausanne federal technology institute EPFL and scientists at two institutions in Israel, corals in the Gulf of Aqaba, in the Red Sea, were found to be resistant to the effects of global warming and ocean acidification, EPFL said in a statement as the results were published in the Royal Society Open Science journal on Wednesday.
Over a six-week period researchers exposed the corals to higher water temperatures and acidification to mimic the summer conditions of a future ocean in that region if sea temperatures continue to rise at their current rate.
Most corals put under the same stresses “would probably bleach and have a high degree of mortality,” said EPFL scientist Thomas Krueger.
However with the Gulf of Aqaba corals, “most of the variables that we measured actually improved, suggesting that these corals are living under suboptimal temperatures right now and might be better prepared for future ocean warming.”
This particular coral species does exist in other parts of the world and does not necessarily demonstrate thermal resistance there, said researchers.
They think the Red Sea corals developed resistance due to a particular set of geographical and climatic conditions in that part of the world.
Rising sea temperatures mean coral reefs elsewhere are dying on a massive scale, including the planet's largest reef, Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The hope is that this thermal-resistant Red Sea coral could therefore be used to reseed dying reefs elsewhere, said researchers.
That is, if it manages to survive other threats, such as pollution.
“This reef should receive international recognition as a natural site of great importance, because it might very well be one of the last reefs standing at the end of this century,” said Anders Meibom of Lausanne University/EPFL.
He called for the countries around the Gulf to create an environmental protection programme “because even if these corals are resistant to rising water temperatures they are still sensitive to local pollution, overfishing etc”.