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Learning from corals thriving in acidic waters

By Dr. Wade Lehmann Posted Jan 07, 2014 09:00 AM
In the most acidic reef Anne Cohen's scientific team has analyzed, corals are thriving when conventional wisdom says these reefs shouldn't even exist. Her research hopes to understand how corals can cope with ocean acidification.
Learning from corals thriving in acidic waters

Coral reefs growing at Nikko Bay, Palau when they shouldn't even be able to survive.

Palau is an island nation tucked into the Micronesian archipelago.  It is part of the area of the Pacific thought of as the origin of coral speciation.  Palau also has an interesting feature associated with one of its coral bays.  It is acidic. The waters off of Nikko Bay, near the capitol Koror, are so acidic that calcium deposition should be inhibited and dissolution of corals' carbonate skeletons evident.  And yet it is still a thriving reef ecosystem. Of note, as you move further away from the barrier reefs offshore into Palau’s island bays the acidity rises, and so does coral cover and diveristy, which is even more unusual.

This finding is the result of work being performed by Anne Cohen’s lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which earned the ‘Best Paper of 2012 Award’ for a publication in Coral Reefs, a well-respected scientific journal on the topic.  As initially reported by PRI, her lab is looking into how corals are thriving in this area where, at least by current thought, they should not be capable of even surviving.  By taking core samples from corals, they hope to gain an understanding of how increasing acidification of the oceans may impact coral populations – and how they may survive the stress of an increasingly hostile ocean environment.

Listen to PRI's interview with Anne Cohen:

For a general overview of ocean acidification, here for a brief summary of scientific findings on the topic.

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