Global warming and climate change are real concerns of the scientific community, and not only theirs. In another attempt at raising awareness of this massive phenomenon, researchers made an experiment which proves that global warming may have a devastating effect on marine ecosystems: the reefs will lose their spark because of coral bleaching.
Brett Lewis is the lead author of the new study which documents on coral bleaching. Their experiment consisted of putting corals into aquariums. They used a mushroom coral, called Heliofungia actiniformis, and they wanted to see how it handles warm water. So they simulated the effects of global warming in the aquarium, by raising the water temperature every day, up to 32 degrees Celsius.
Heliofungia actiniformis consists of a large polyp to which algae are attached. They provide the coral with food, and the coral provides them with a home. The algae also give the coral its colorful cloth. However, when exposed to warm water, the coral rejects the algae in a violent reaction, which the researchers have observed for several days in a row. By losing the tiny algae, the coral also loses its colors and bright, thus causing the process known as coral bleaching.
In the process, the polyp swells up and increases its body volume at 340% than the usual, which shows extreme irritation at the external factor of heat.
Luke Nothdurft, one of the members of the team, said in a statement that he is concerned about the process, which can be triggered any time by natural climate change:
“Mass coral bleaching events are a concern for scientists globally with recent events on the Great Barrier Reef highlighting the threat of elevated water temperatures to the heat of reef ecosystems.”
If the water cools again, the algae may return to the polyp, and if it accepts them, the coral can survive. If this doesn’t happen, corals can’t live without algae, so the process of coral bleaching can lead to its death and, thus, to the damaging of the reef’s ecosystem.
Heliofungia actiniformis is considered to be an endangered species already, as it is threatened by both global warming and by human’s action of collecting the coral for trade and tank arrangements. Hopefully, the experiment will also result in solutions of protecting the reefs.
The study was published on Coral Reefs, on August 5.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia