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Scripps-led study shows ocean health plays vital role in coral reef recovery
Date:7/21/2009

The new research study led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego suggests that by improving overall ocean health, corals are better able to recover from bleaching events, which occur when rising sea temperatures force corals to expel their symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon that is expected to increase in frequency as global climate change increases ocean temperatures worldwide.

The new findings, published in the July 22 issue of the journal PLoS ONE, show that following a major bleaching event Mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata) on various reefs in Honduras and Belize was able to recover and grow normally within two to three years when the surrounding waters and reef were relatively healthy. In comparison, those corals living with excessive local impacts, such as pollution, were not able to fully recover after eight years.

"You can imagine that when you are recovering from a sickness, it will take a lot longer if you don't eat well or get enough rest," said Jessica Carilli, Scripps graduate student and lead author on the study. "Similarly, a coral organism that must be constantly trying to clean itself from excess sediment particles will have a more difficult time recovering after a stressful condition like bleaching."

Carilli and colleagues analyzed 92 coral cores collected from four reef sites off the coast of Honduras and Belize. The cores were collected from reefs with different degrees of local stress from pollution, overfishing and sediment and nutrient run off from land. By using x-rays, the researchers were able to examine the coral's annual growth rate records since 1950, including the time before and after a major bleaching event in 1998.

"It is clear that Mesoamerican corals really fell off a cliff in 1998 -- nearly everybody suffered mass bleaching," said Dick Norris, Scripps professor of paleooceanography and co-
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Contact: Annie Reisewitz or Robert Monroe
scrippsnews@ucsd.edu
858-534-3624
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert  

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