Coral Reef ‘Bright Spots’: Helping Coral Reefs Survive Climate Change

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Zegar Family Foundation
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Ecology and Evolution

Climate change and rising ocean temperatures are causing massive, worldwide coral bleaching events. The Great Barrier Reef may have lost over 50% of its corals in the past two summers to bleaching. Few corals may survive the next 100 years. Why is this a problem? Coral reefs are one of the world’s most diverse and valuable ecosystems. They provide numerous ecosystem services and are crucial sources of income and protein to around a billion people on the planet. Yet, we are at risk of losing many reefs within the next two to three generations. Our work asks two critical questions: (1) Where in the world do corals bleach and die less or more than expected based on NOAA’s predictive models? and (2) What factors predict these coral reef ‘bright spots” and ‘dark spots’, respectively?  Identifying the context for bright spots, places with less than expected bleaching, could help guide future conservation decisions by enabling managers to target reefs with lower probability of bleaching that could be protected from human encroachment. Identifying dark spots, places with more than expected bleaching, could lead to changes in stress mitigation strategies if the drivers of dark spots are amenable to local management, such as local nutrient pollution or sedimentation. These potential refuges from coral bleaching may ensure that coral reefs persist during our climate crisis as we begin to control our carbon emissions.