Coral in most parts of the world bleach when water temperatures surpass 28-32°C except in the Arabian/Persian Gulf, a new study finds. Curious to know why coral in the waters surrounding Abu Dhabi and other Gulf countries are able to withstand water temperatures as high as 36 °C before bleaching (not to mention the onslaught of unsustainable coastline development), scientists from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and the National Oceanography Center (Nocs) at the University of Southampton shipped a few samples to the UK for a closer look. And the results were a somewhat surprising.
“Corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae that live within their tissue and provide them with food,” Dr John Burt, head of the marine biology laboratory at NYUAD, told The National.
There are a variety of algae that have varying levels of heat tolerance, he added. So he and other researchers involved in a study initiated in 2011 expected to find that the algae within Gulf coral would be somehow different from other algae.
Such a determination might have explained why Gulf coral is unusually resilient. But that isn’t how the story unfolds.
It turns out that the study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin reveals algae that is the same as that found in other climates where coral has a low threshold for heat.
Speaking to Vesela Todorova with The National, Dr Joerg Wiedenmann, head of the coral reef laboratory at Nocs said, “We see that the algae are indeed special in Gulf corals but in a way that we did not expect.”
“Our results suggest that the algae are not solely responsible for the heat resistance of Gulf corals and that we need to look closer into other mechanisms that might render the corals more resilient,” he added.
In other words, Gulf corals are special. But nobody knows why.
Meanwhile, check out how underwater art is rejuvenating coral reefs in Qatar.
:: The National
Stock image of coral and scuttlefish, Shutterstock