Scientists studying the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef report remarkable recent growth in coral. The findings defy alarmist predictions of doom and gloom after a cyclone damaged the reef and warming temperatures followed.
Australian researchers conducted a four-year study off One Tree Island, which is one of the southernmost locations of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists considered this portion of the reef in decline since the 1970s. According to the Brisbane Times, scientists expected a 2009 cyclone that hit the area would be the final knockout blow for the reef. Instead, scientists conducting a four-year study of the reef from 2014 through 2017 found remarkable growth and recovery.
Kay Davis, one of the study’s researchers, told the Brisbane Times that she expected warming temperatures and ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to be the final death blow for the reef.
“The ocean is warming and acidifying so we wouldn’t think the coral would be able to fight that,” said Davis.
To her surprise, her research showed the reef’s calcification, a measure of coral growth, increased 400 percent during the four years of her study.
“One Tree Island is a special case because it was given that time it remained relatively isolated from humans and human impact, apart from the global impact of climate change,” said Davis in the Times.
Scientists have long reported that many factors can stress coral reefs, including sediment runoff from nearby human activity. Skeptics of a climate crisis have accordingly been cautious about jumping to conclusions about global warming when reefs show signs of stress.
Davis argued that global warming makes it more difficult for coral to recover from stress factors and bleaching events, but her research of the coral near One Tree Island shows that coral can recover quite well from stress events, even in a warming environment.
The One Tree Island research confirms ongoing research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography that much of the world’s coral continue to thrive with warming temperatures. Scripps has been studying coral as part of its 100 Island Challenge, examining marine organism health in tropical waters throughout the world. The study has focused especially closely on coral reefs that have undergone recent bleaching.
“We’ve seen evidence of health pretty much everywhere. This isn’t saying that every reef is thriving, and every reef has stayed immune to climate change. But what we’re seeing is that after a reef dies, organisms grow,” said researcher Stuart Sandin in an article published by Quartz.
“We were inspired by some observations that we had about seeing coral reefs in far flung places that showed signs of resilience, that showed bounty, that showed wonder. And these observations that we had were somewhat in contrast to some of the news reports of doom and gloom, of loss,” said Sandin.
“Although they have not yet determined how the reefs are changing over time, perhaps the most surprising results they have seen reveal how well many reef systems are doing, even in places facing human impact,” Quartz observed. “Jamaica, for example, has long been held out as a case study for coral loss. But the team visited last year and came away surprised.”
“You can see these little colonies of pretty much every species of Caribbean coral alive, growing slowly,” said Sandin, according to Quartz.