Corals Are Moving North

Flickr: Martin-Klein

As the average temperature of the Earth rises due to climate change, the temperature of the oceans rises as well. These drastic rise in ocean temperatures, affect marine organisms of all shapes and sizes. However, the most prominent effects have been observed on corals. Corals, which are home to thousands of marine creatures, are considered to be some of the most fascinating and eye pleasing marine organisms in the oceans. Unfortunately, they are also highly sensitive to environmental changes.

In a recent article published in Science News (which can be found here), coral migration was studied and tracked by a group of scientists off the coasts of Japan. When they compared current results to data collected from different time periods starting in the 1930’s, they found out that various common coral species have retreated northward, and some have even gone as far as temperate waters. Furthermore, the abundance of coral has decreased proportionately with northward migration.

Mila Zinkova/Wikimedia Commons

If this trend were to continue and not be altered, the population of corals in the oceans will continue to decline. This decline is very unfortunate and it shows how deadly climate change can be. Corals are home to thousands of different marine organisms. Hence, the lost of corals, also causes the direct loss of other marine organisms. Ultimately this can lead to an overall reduction in biodiversity. Furthermore, the decline in coral also jeopardizes recreational activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling.

Although this article, provides excellent evidence to support the fact that corals are moving north and their abundance is decreasing. It does not provide us with ways to prevent or slow down this process. Most of us are already aware of the drastic effects climate change has on marine organisms, but very few of us know how to directly prevent such events from occurring. Hopefully we’ll see more media coverage on prevention methods in the future, so that such events can be prevented or subdued in the future.

4 responses to “Corals Are Moving North

  1. I think the point about recreational activities like snorkeling and scuba diving being affected is interesting. On one side these activities can cause harm to coral reefs. Though quickly looking at some papers on the topic, scuba divers and snorkelers do not seem to contribute to reef damage significantly. Overall, I think activities like scuba diving will persist, simply the tourist destinations for these activities will change. What makes tropical reefs so charismatic for tourists is the warm water, and according to the paper the corals are moving in response to warmer sea surface temperatures. The result is that tourism based economies (Hawaii as an example) may suffer from the migration of these natural tourist attractions. With the shift of coral reefs poleward, different countries/ cities will gain new reefs, and therefore can become tourist destinations; perhaps in only a few decades given that the corals are migrating so quickly.

  2. So interesting! I was skiing on the weekend and my friend Nicola told me about a very well-written paper she had read. Then, I look at the SCIE 300 blog and there is a post about that same paper! Science News was one of the outlets that covered the paper, which will appear in Geophysical Research Letters. Nicola also covered it for Nature. It’s important to distinguish from the research article and the media outlets that write news stories about the research. The full reference for the research article is:
    Yamano, H., K. Sugihara, and K. Nomura (2011)
    Rapid poleward range expansion of tropical reef corals in response to rising sea surface temperatures
    Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2010GL046474, in press.

  3. Corals are fascinating and are actually very useful in determining the history of the ocean because there are just like big strainers. I wonder how the loss of corals will affect studies in oceanography, as well as the marine ecosystems of coral reefs.
    Did the researchers give a hypothesis as to why the corals are migrating north? I thought that corals were sessile once mature and thus couldn’t migrate, so is this a matter of their mobile offspring moving north? Is there any correlation to currents pushing them north or is this an intended migration? An interesting study which brings up some questions for further research into the unknown blue deep.

  4. Its crazy how much global warming is changing the planet in so many ways and people don’t know how bad it is. I’ve definitely heard about the arctic snow cap is melting and hows its affecting the animals in that area but not so much the coral species. When I first heard about the idea of global warming it was really interesting to see how it affects people indirectly as well (ex. food supply, resources etc) , because a lot of the times we don’t make that connection and therefore assume that its not a problem that we need to worry about when in fact it is.