The Red Sea could be the only critical place on the planet where coral reefs are able to survive. Researchers were stunned when they discovered that dissimilar to corals in the Great Barrier Reef and anywhere else, the corals in the northern area of the Red Sea are not bleaching at all, not do they die when the sea temperatures increases. Rather, they are thriving.
Trying to Find a Reason
Bleaching is a phenomenon created by global warming and has been one of the main causes behind half of the world’s coral reefs extinction in the last three decades. However, the northern area of the Gulf of Aqaba, where Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia meet, the corals are abundant, colorful, and thriving in spite of the increase in carbon dioxide and warming seas.
“We’re seeing corals that are resilient to five, six degrees — even more degrees above summer maximum,” Professor Maoz Fine, from Israel’s Bar Ilan University, said.
Australian researchers are collaborating with scientists in Israel and Jordan to discover the reason behind the healthy thriving of the corals. They are also looking to understand whether the answer could help save the besieged coral species in the Great Barrier Reef.
“We’re starting to get some nice insights into what makes coral reefs tick and most importantly, how we avoid killing them as we are in many places,” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor of Marine Science at the University of Queensland said.
“We can’t make coral adapt, but we can improve its ability to weather the storm of rising sea temperatures.”
Studying Resistant Corals to Understand the Phenomenon
At the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, Israeli scientists have developed a ‘Red Sea simulator,’ which assays the response of local coral species to high carbon dioxide scales and incredibly lofty temperatures.
They believe the reason these groups of corals are more resistant is that they disperse to the region from further south, where the ocean is much hotter, and were genetically altered to resist higher sea temperatures.
“Understanding the processes that have led to high resilience here will be interesting elsewhere,” Professor Fine said.
However, that doesn’t signify that scientists could restock the already dead parts of the Great Barrier Reef with Red Sea corals.
Professor Fine explained: “We’re not suggesting that corals from the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea could be translocated and reseeded in the Great Barrier Reef/ We’re talking about hundreds of species, we’re talking about a very different environment and of course the vast size of the Great Barrier Reef suggests that it’s not very practical or feasible to reseed corals.”
Coral Reefs Could Be at Risk of Extinction
While continually increasing temperatures might not pose an immediate threat, there are numerous others that could wreck the Gulf of Aqaba‘s coral reefs. Researchers are worried about the rising coastal urban buildings, fish farming, tourism, and desalination, all of which result in pollution that affect reefs.
Saudi Arabia has begun developing Neom, a futuristic $725 billion city on the coast of the Red Sea. The city will allegedly have sand that glows in the dark, an artificial moon, and will use chemical ‘cloud seeding’ to create a high rainfall.
Controlling the effects of development and other menaces requires collaboration between the countries that share a coastline, something that is currently challenging to attain due to the politically tense state of this area.