Corals Packing Up and Moving North To Escape Warming

yellow fish corals photo

Photo by USFWS Pacific via Flickr Creative Commons

Last year was touted to be the worst year on record for corals as the temperature of oceans creeped upwards. As waters warm, the symbiotic algae living on corals dies off, causing bleaching from which it is difficult for corals to recover. Last year, the news of bleachings in important coral regions was all too common. But it seems that corals are finding their own solutions and, like many other species, are migrating toward the poles to cooler waters. OurAmazingPlanet reports, "Geographer Hiroya Yamano, at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, and his colleagues investigated 80 years of national records from temperate areas around Japan. Wintertime sea surface temperatures rose by as much as 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in those sites during that period."

The team found that four of the nine coral species are moving northward (no species moved south toward warmer water), and have been moving since 1930. Surprisingly, they've been expanding their range by nearly nine miles per year! While the movement could help some species of coral survive, it could also mean greater losses of corals in the more tropical areas, since temperatures will keep warming and the corals aren't budging.

We've been watching plants and animals change their ranges and even migration patterns to adjust to global warming, though corals are arguably the most fragile since they support entire ecosystems vital to ocean life. How their movement will help or hinder the species dependent on them is still unknown.

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