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Mysterious glowing coral reefs are fighting to recover

Acropora corals. Colourful bleaching in New Caledonia. Credit: The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colourful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer ‘coral bleaching’ – a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming. The scientists behind the research think this phenomenon is a sign that corals are fighting to survive.

Many coral animals live in a fragile, mutually beneficial relationship, a ‘symbiosis’ with tiny algae embedded in their cells. The algae gain shelter, carbon dioxide and nutrients, while the corals receive photosynthetic products to fulfil their energy needs. If temperatures rise just 1 C above the usual summer maximum, this symbiosis breaks down; the algae are lost, the coral’s white limestone skeleton shines through its transparent tissue and a damaging process known as ‘ coral bleaching ‘ occurs.

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This condition can be fatal to the coral. Once its live tissue is gone, the skeleton is exposed to the eroding forces of the environment. Within a few years, an entire coral reef can break down and much of the biodiversity that depends on its complex structure is lost—a scenario which currently […]

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