Although there is evidence that other reefs have suffered degradation from high levels of sediment, these findings suggest that in some cases reefs can adapt to these conditions and thrive. For Middle Reef, rapid rates of vertical reef growth have, paradoxically, probably been aided by the high sedimentation rates. The team believe this is because the accumulating sediment rapidly covers the coral skeletons after their death, preventing their destruction by fish, urchins and other biological eroders, thus promoting coral framework preservation and rapid reef growth.
Professor Chris Perry of Geography at the University of Exeter said: "Our research challenges the long-held assumption that high sedimentation rates are necessarily bad news in terms of coral reef growth. It is exciting to discover that Middle Reef has in fact thrived in these unpromising conditions. It is, however, important to remain cautious when considering what this means for other reefs. Middle Reef includes corals adapted to deal with high sedimentation and low light conditions. Other reefs where corals and various other reef organisms are less well adapted may not do so well if sediment inputs increased.
"Our research calls for a rethink on some of the classic models of reef growth. At a time when these delicate and unique ecosystems are under threat from climate change and ocean acidification, a view endorsed in a recent consensus statement from many of the World's coral reef scientists, it is more important than ever that we understand how, when and where reefs can grow and thrive."
|Contact: Sarah Hoyle|
University of Exeter