20 Nov 2021
Rapid ocean warming triggered the first back-to-back coral bleaching events in Malaysia in 2019 - 2020. Are Malaysian coral reefs doomed?
Today, the preprint of our latest research study (currently in peer-review) was published. In 2019, the effects of climate change on Malaysian coral reefs were put on bare display, as ~55% of corals suffered from high temperature coral bleaching. In 2020, it happened again. We investigated the trickle-down impacts from such heatwaves, and asked just how fast is the ocean heating up in Malaysia's northeastern state of Terengganu? What we wanted to find out is, whether or not coral species can adapt to rising temperatures, and ultimately to climate change? And if so, how much time do corals have left to do so?
Indeed some coral species show a potential to adapt, or at least adjust, to the more severe ocean heatwaves. Due to current and future greenhouse gas emission, ocean heatwaves will become inevitably more frequent and severe, and we did our best to understand how past heatwaves may have impacted the thermal tolerance (or susceptibility thereof) of hard coral species. These are positive signs, but that is not to understate the evident: climate change is the biggest risk to planetary health, and coral reefs are one of the first major ecosystems to collapse due to climate change.
As such, there is no way around drastically and urgently reducing carbon and methane emissions if we want to preserve coral reefs. But our study suggests that there is hope and that we should not underestimate coral reefs just yet. To save them, we must act now, as this decade may as well be our last chance.
Link to the preprint: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.11.16.468775v1.abstract