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Study: Ningaloo Corals Are Not Well Adapted to Handle Climate Change
By Ian Bongso-Seldrup, June 13, 2022 @ 08:30 PM (EST)
Source: Science Daily


The Great Barrier Reef may be the most famous reef Down Under, but divers and underwater photographers who want to avoid the crowds head over to country’s Coral Coast for the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, a 160-mile-long fringing reef sitting in the turquoise waters of the East Indian Ocean. And while the GBR is constantly in the news for the devastating effects of ocean warming, Ningaloo seems to be in very good condition, with diverse coral, seagrass and mangrove habitats supporting innumerable fish species as well as turtles, dugongs, whales and whale sharks. However, with seawater temperatures on the rise and measureable declines in coral cover, the long-term future of the reef is in question.

Now, a new study from researchers at Perth’s Curtin University suggest that coral populations of Ningaloo Marine Park are ill-equipped to handle ocean warming. The study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, investigated coral population connectivity and adaptive capacity, finding corals growing in different reef systems in northwestern Australia are genetically isolated from one another.

“Having segregated reefs means that it's hard for the corals to move between the regions,” says lead researcher Arne Adam, a PhD student from the Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences. “If corals at one reef die out, it is unlikely that this reef will be rescued by newcomer corals from neighboring reefs.”

According to senior researcher Dr Zoe Richards, the findings support the idea that Western Australia’s reef systems are both geographically isolated and highly adapted to the current local environmental conditions. “For the Ningaloo Reef system, this combination of traits could spell disaster under extreme future climate scenarios,” she says.

The study will help predict which coral communities may be resilient or vulnerable to future climate change, information that is vital for cost-effective conservation planning. Scientists have previously predicted that Ningaloo could experience significant coral bleaching annually by around 2050 if current trends persist.

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