What if we had a crystal ball that would enhance our ability in predicting coral bleaching and disease? A coral biologist in Hawaii, David Gulko believes that we do and that this new tool can help us protect our coral reefs.
“Creating a Coral Ark”
In 2015 Gulko was able to predict four months in advance that a coral bleaching event was about to threaten Hawaii’s reefs. Gulko swam into action, he knew that the very rare knobby finger coral was especially vulnerable and removed samples of it and several dozen other coral species to the safety of his lab, in effect “to create a coral ark.”
When ocean temperatures did rise as predicted the remaining knobby finger coral disappeared completely from Kaneohe Bay “nothing was left” said Gulko. However, due to the early warning provided by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, (that uses remote sensing and data modeling to predict ocean surface temperatures) the laboratory samples are thriving.
Gulko soon, hopes to reintroduce healthy corals back into Kaneohe Bay exactly where it originated. (photo – Knobby Finger coral in the lab, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources)
“We’re hoping that, lacking another large bleaching event, these will survive and expand.” Gulko will keep some fragments in the “ark” as insurance in case the coral is threatened again. “My gut feeling,” he said, is “because we did this, we probably have a good chance of keeping the species from going extinct.”
Predicting Coral Disease?
It is not just coral bleaching events that Coral Reef Watch is hoping to predict. Coral disease is infecting reef ecosystems around the world. Recently Blue Ocean reported on “coral tissue loss” a disease killing hard corals off Florida’s Keys. First detected in 2014 it continues to spread.
In the 70’s and 80’s “white-band disease” spread across Caribbean and Florida reefs killing nearly 90% of staghorn and elkhorn branching corals and eventually putting them on the endangered list. (photo – Rick Loomis, LA Times)
Both of these diseases appear to be related to ocean temperature, normally appearing in the warmer summer months and disappearing as temperatures cool during the winter months. This latest infection, however is not going away so easily.
Predicting Coral Bleaching and Disease in the Pacific
In 2017 the team that developed Coral Reef Watch for NASA was tasked to expand the existing tool to enhance predicting coral bleaching and disease across the Pacific. This system will not only be measuring ocean temperatures but also other reef stressors like water quality. Coral disease like coral bleaching is on the rise and tools that enable scientists to better understand when and where it might strike may keep them one step ahead. See Oceana’s entire article by Amy McDermott.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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