A new study in Nature emphasizes the impact of increased coral bleaching events and how it’s affecting the reproduction cycle by giving the coral little recovery time. The research focuses on coral recruitment on the Great Barrier Reef: the process of coral larvae attaching themselves to existing coral. The study identifies the vulnerability of this critical process, showing how the reefs are on the verge of “ecological collapse”, but also how the mix of species sustaining the reefs could look very different in the future.
The amount of new corals that are inhabiting the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 89% with the death of adult corals. This is a compounding effect of the increasing severity of ocean heat waves as the sea collects more carbon than its natural capability. If allowed time to reproduce and mature, the surviving corals could be more heat-tolerant and survive future bleaching events. After recent research pointed to how deep-water reefs can’t offer the degree of protection originally thought, co-author of the paper James Cook said, “One more large scale bleaching event in the new few years and it could be curtains”. These reefs nurture and feed the creatures that millions of people rely on as a critical food supply; the bleachings compound the movement towards ecological degradation and fishless oceans.