Cleaner Water Helps Corals Combat Climate Change (Duh.)

clear water coral photo

Photo via Paul and Jill via Flickr CC

Intuitively, everyone already knows this, but a new study has confirmed that seawater free from pollution helps corals survive the impacts of climate change. Coral reef ecologist Robert van Woesik from the Florida Institute of Technology and his team demonstrated that as the waters around the Florida Keys warmed, the corals living in cleaner water continued to thrive while those in more polluted water suffered. Their findings provide evidence that policies around wastewater discharge and water pollution can help corals survive in warming waters. van Woesik told FIT, "Regulating wastewater discharge from the land will help coral reefs resist climate change. In the face of climate change and ocean warming, this study gives managers hope that maintaining high water quality can spare corals."

The trouble, of course, is getting stricter regulations around wastewater discharge. Pollution that impacts corals stems from a range of sources, including agricultural run-off -- the fertilizer from which can cause algae blooms that result in dead zones -- stormwater run-off from roads and urban areas into coastal waters, and poorly managed wastewater treatment plants that allow effluent to enter the waterways. Keeping ocean water clean means strict requirements on land, which can be difficult, if not impossible, to form.

And pollution that impacts corals doesn't just come from wastewater. Pollution sources also include everything from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is absorbed by the ocean, which results in ocean acidification, to the sunscreen worn by beach-goers.

It was obvious before the study that pollution levels need to drop way down if corals are to have a fighting chance against warming temperatures. So the only problem now is getting those pollution levels down. With the BP oil spill getting worse by the day, corals in the Florida Keys are going to have more than just wastewater runoff to worry about.

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