Scientists from Hawaii’s Institute for Marine Biology on Coconut Island are tinkering with evolution in an attempt to create “super coral” capable of withstanding the increasing temperatures and acidity of our oceans. When the report was released, NOAA coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin said, “We may be looking at losing somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 percent of the coral reefs this year. Hawaii is getting hit with the worst coral bleaching they have ever seen.” Bleaching events, where coral expel their symbiotic algae, have “intensified and got much more serious,” said Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. “Where they once looked for the bleached coral among the healthy, her team is now “looking for the healthy individuals in a sea of pale corals.”

Video courtesy of AP.

The team’s theoretical experimentation approach, called “assisted evolution,” involves exposure of more resilient corals to water conditions that mimic future warmer and more acidic ocean parameters. Although the assisted evolution approach has been around for years, aspects the team are incorporating include selective breeding of species that harbor stronger traits, all of this with the goal of creating a “labratory-enhanced” broodstock for repopulating affected reefs. “We’ve given them experiences that we think are going to raise their ability to survive stress,” Gates adds. The project is a long ways away from any substantial data collection but the team will be planting any “super coral” they produce back into Kaneohe Bay where they will be observed, and will hopefully start reproducing stronger, more adapted offspring within a year’s time.

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