Though ship traffic and pollution mean that Moreton Bay won't be idyllic home, it might be just good enough to harbor the world's threatened corals. Image credit: Cindy Andrie/Flickr
Thanks to climate change, pollution, and ocean acidification, the fate of many of the world's coral reefs is a good as sealed. This leaves biologists and conservationists with the troubling tasks of preservation—where possible—and rehabilitation.
One possible solution is transplantation. Australia's Moreton Bay, new research indicates, might make a suitable shelter for the world's threatened corals.Currently, coral occupies about one percent of Moreton Bay's total area—and that one percent has shown signs of damage from clearing and catchment pollution. Moreover, the water in the bay tends to be cold in the winter and lacks direct sunlight, both factors that limit coral success.
Finding a place for reseeding, however, is less about what is perfect now and more about what will be perfect in the future if global warming continues as expected. Matt Lybolt, a researcher at the University of Queensland who studies the bay, explained:
Under climate change we expect winters to be warmer and sea levels to rise—and both of these factors will tend to favour the expansion of corals in Moreton Bay.
Still, work will have to be done today to ensure Moreton Bay will be a suitable home tomorrow. Specifically, Lybolt says, three things must be addressed: pollution from the more than two million residents surrounding the bay, the limited area available for growing coral, and the current lack of branching corals in the ecosystem. Furthermore, regrowing mangrove forests and sea grass, Lybolt explained, will foster coral growth.
Though improving these factors will help improve the health of the bay in general, there is still no guarantee that it will work as a "lifeboat" for the world's coral species. While historical evidence shows that coral has been able to move to new locations when climactic conditions change, research also casts doubts on the viability of reseeding programs.
Without action, however, coral reefs as we know them will likely shrivel and disappear. Places like Moreton Bay may be the only opportunity to ensure healthy&mdahs;albeit different—reef ecosystems exist in the future.