The Great Barrier Reef is one of the largest living ecosystems on Earth, comprised of more than 3,800 individual reefs that are even visible from space.
Despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and its protected state within Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the reef has still undergone severe bleaching events over the last two years and is under constant threat of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
Researchers have been studying the adaptability of coral reefs to global climate change to see how well they can acclimate to changing conditions. Now, a new study has found that a small portion of the Great Barrier Reef could help boost widespread reef recovery and regeneration.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and the University of Sheffield and was published in the journal PLOS Biology.
The researchers discovered that 100 reefs within the Great Barrier Reef are better suited to withstand coral bleaching and could potentially supply coral larvae to other reefs.
“Finding these 100 reefs is a little like revealing the cardiovascular system of the Great Barrier Reef,” said Peter Mumby, one of the study’s lead authors. “Although the 100 reefs only make up 3% of the entire GBR, they have the potential to supply larvae to almost half (45%) of the entire ecosystem in a single year.”
The 100 reefs are located in cool areas and in ideal locations for sending coral larvae on ocean currents to other parts of the reef.
Even though these 100 reefs could help with regeneration for almost half of The Great Barrier Reef, conservation and protection should still be a priority for the UNESCO site.
“Indeed, the fact that the study only identified around a hundred of these reefs across the entire 2300km length of the massive Great Barrier Reef emphasises the need for both effective local protection of critical locations and reduction of carbon emissions in order to support this majestic ecosystem,” said Dr. Karlo Hock, the lead author.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer
Image Credit: Peter J. Mumby