Up to 25% of marine species depend on coral reefs, one of the most important animals in the ocean. This organism is vital for life in the oceans, but they are fragile ecosystems and, in recent years, very threatened.
Despite this, there may still be hope for coral reefs: according to joint research by the University of Queensland, the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and the University of Sheffield, there are still 100 reefs in the Great Barrier Reef that they are key to promoting the regional recovery of the ecosystem.
What happens to coral reefs?
The iconic Great Barrier Reef of Australia, a large coral ecosystem consisting of more than 3,800 individual reefs, has recently suffered serious damage, including unprecedented cases of coral bleaching in the last two years.
The seriousness of this fact has caught the attention of the scientific community about the current state of coral reefs around the world and the challenges that must be faced to preserve them.
The results of the new research suggest that these reefs not only appear to be less exposed to the damaging effects of bleaching and depredation of starfish, but are also well connected to other reefs by ocean currents, and therefore have the potential to provide coral larvae to support the recovery of other reefs.
These 100 reefs meet three essential criteria to promote the recovery of corals:
First, the reefs must be in cool areas and rarely damaged by coral bleaching; this means that corals are relatively healthy in these reefs and capable of supplying larvae (fertilized eggs) to other reefs.
Second, because the larvae travel in ocean currents, the reefs should be located in areas that supply larvae to as many reefs as possible.
Finally, although these reefs should provide coral larvae, they should not extend the larvae of the starfish from the crown of thorns.
Although the 100 reefs only make up 3% of the entire Great Barrier Reef, they have the potential to supply larvae to almost half (45%) of the entire ecosystem in a single year.
The reefs are in serious danger
In spite of everything, these findings in no way suggest that the coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are safe and in perfect condition, warns Dr Hock: “The fact that the study only identified around a hundred of these reefs as The length of the 2300-kilometer long Great Barrier Reef emphasizes the need for effective local protection of critical locations and the reduction of carbon emissions to support this majestic ecosystem.”
Researchers agree that it is possible to save the Great Barrier Reef but for this, it is necessary to seriously mitigate climate change.
Focusing efforts on these well-connected reefs and monitoring their health may be a step in the right direction, but the ecosystem remains vulnerable to the impacts of multiple stressors.