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Coral reefs near the equator are less susceptible to bleaching

Coral bleaching events are becoming more common as ocean temperatures increase due to climate change. Despite efforts being made to recover reefs and studies that focus on the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on key coastal reef habitats, the outlook for corals seems grim.

However, researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology and the University of California have found that corals near the equator are less impacted by ocean warming compared to other reefs.

The researchers detailed their findings in a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from Reef Check which is a major citizen science initiative to survey the world’s corals, and the researchers reviewed 20 years of surveys from 3,500 coral study sites. The data revealed interesting insights into coral bleaching trends on a global scale.

In regions where corals are exposed to higher temperatures, coral bleaching was more common, but in areas where temperatures varied from month to month, bleaching was far less likely.

But the team found that corals near the equator experience less bleaching and that reefs along the equator are more resilient to ocean warming and acidification.

“We found that the reefs near the Equator were less affected by bleaching than elsewhere, despite similar thermal-stress levels at equatorial sites,” said Deron Burkepile, a co-author of the study.

One explanation could be that previous bleaching events wiped out corals that were more sensitive to temperature changes and the remaining corals have a stronger tolerance.

“We are uncertain why equatorial reefs are more tolerant of recent temperature stress, but we do know that we must protect these equatorial reefs – and reefs everywhere – from other disturbances, lest we lose coral reefs that protect coastal inhabitants from storm waves and help feed millions of people worldwide,” said Rob van Woesik, a fellow co-author of the study.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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