Colorful Coral Reef Is Thriving in Hot Water

(p. D1) In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead.
On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.
Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?
This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life.
“Everything looked just magnificent,” said Jan Witting, the expedition’s chief scientist and a researcher at Sea Education Association, based in Woods Hole, Mass.
. . .
(p. D6) If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
No one actually knows what drives reef resilience or even what a coral reef looks like as it is rebounding. In remote, hard-to-get-to places, our understanding of coral is roughly akin to a doctor’s knowing only what a patient looks like in perfect health and after death, Dr. Rotjan said.

For the full story, see:
KAREN WEINTRAUB. “In Splash of Colors, Signs of Hope for Coral Reefs.” The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 16, 2016): D1 & D6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 15, 2016, and has the title “Giant Coral Reef in Protected Area Shows New Signs of Life.” The print version gave incorrect affiliation for Jan Witting. The version above is the online version.)

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