Coral reefs are extremely important biodiversity hotspots. They are home to countless species, and are vital not only to the oceans, but also to pretty much all life on Earth (it's all interconnected). Corals can take a lot of abuse, but past a certain point, they can't handle it and just die out. Since the beginning of the industrial age, 30% to 60% of the coral reefs on the planet have disappeared because of human activity and warming oceans.
Scientists like Steve Palumbi, featured in the video below, are trying to better understand corals and figure out a way to save them from rising ocean temperatures.
One promising area of research are corals that are already living in warmer-than-usual temperatures:
One population of Acropora hyacinthus coral – dubbed "table top coral" for its round, flat appearance – grows in water that often hits the high 80s Fahrenheit, which is warm for corals, but not unusual. The other reef, composed of the same species, rests just a few hundred yards away, but the water here doesn't mix as much with the cool incoming tides, and so it commonly reaches 95 F. That's well warmer than corals can typically survive; hotter even than what most climate models project for the world's oceans in the next century.
And yet, these corals thrive.
By studying the DNA differences between these populations of corals and doing various experiments, transplanting cooler-water corals into the warm-water area and in special stress-testing equipment that can very precisely monitor water temps, the researchers are looking for the holy grail: A way to save corals by giving them more heat resistance.
Here's Steve Palumbi with some of his coral tanks:
The video below shows some of the experiments that are done to put various types of corals in various conditions to see how they fare:
Maybe heat-resistant corals could be grown and transplanted to areas that are susceptible to bleaching. Some of this has been attempted in the past with more or less success, but it's very possible that with a better understanding of corals and better methods to progressively acclimate corals to new areas and seed them in existing reefs, that we could one day bring back to life some dying reefs.
There are all kinds of clever ways to try to find corals that are more resistant to bleaching events. For example, cancer-detecting equipment was used to do just that.