Kansan Reef

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Decline in reef growth indicates chronic stress factors

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Coral reef growth has decreased as much as 70 percent in some places, according to a study conducted by The University of Queensland, Australia, QU.

It’s not so much in industries that people willl notice the lack of reef growth, but “reefs serve as barriers,” said Dr. Daphne Fautin, a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a professor of invertebrate zoology at the University of Kansas. “The places least damaged by the Southeast Asian tsunami were the places with the best developed coral reefs.”

According to QU, corals accumulate and produce calcium carbonate, set against the loss of carbonate through erosional processes. There are many causes of reef decay, Fautin said. One of the sources comes from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Increased carbon dioxide in the air means more CO2 in the water, said Fautin. Carbon dioxide in water makes carbonic acid and lowers the pH, which can lead to chronic stress in the corals. “Coral reefs do well in chronic stress if well established.”

Without chronic stress, coral reefs should be able to rebound from damage, such as hurricanes, shipwrecks and oil spills, however, under a combination of chronic and acute stress, corals will die, Fautin said.

Fautin traveled to Jamaica twice with KU undergraduate students. Scientists thought Jamaica would be a great place to study how corals rebound from natural disasters, but the corals haven’t grown, Fautin said.

Fautin said scientists had been studying the reefs at in Jamaica, for so long, they thought it would be a great place to study how corals, but the corals haven’t come back. Fautin said, some models show that by mid-century, the level of calcium carbonate in surface seawater will be much lower, due to CO2 rise in the atmosphere, almost everywhere that reefs grow than it has been historically everywhere reefs grow.

According to the study by QU, current coral production rates, on average, are less than 50 percent lower in the Caribbean.

“If we don’t solve the problems that have killed corals in the ocean, those we grow in tanks and put back in the ocean will suffer the same fate,” Fautin said.

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Author: Chas Strobel

My name is Chas Strobel. I am a journalism student in the William Allan White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and an avid reef keeper.

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