Extreme mangrove corals found on the Great Barrier Reef

The first documented discovery of ‘extreme corals’ in mangrove lagoons around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is yielding important information about how corals deal with environmental stress

University of Technology Sydney

The first documented discovery of 'extreme corals' in mangrove lagoons around Australia's Great Barrier Reef is yielding important information about how corals deal with environmental stress, scientists say. Credit Dr Emma Camp

The first documented discovery of ‘extreme corals’ in mangrove lagoons around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is yielding important information about how corals deal with environmental stress, scientists say. Credit Dr Emma Camp

The first documented discovery of “extreme corals” in mangrove lagoons around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is yielding important information about how corals deal with environmental stress, scientists say. Thirty four species of coral were found to be regularly exposed to extreme low pH, low oxygen and highly variable temperature conditions making two mangrove lagoons on the Woody Isles and Howick Island potential “hot-spots” of coral resilience.

Although coral cover was typically low and somewhat patchy in the lagoon waters, DECRA Research Fellow Dr Emma Camp, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) said the discovery was important because it “provides novel information on the mechanisms that support coral resilience to stressors such as climate change and pollution.”

“This highlights the need to study environments that would usually be considered unfavourable to corals in order to understand how stress tolerance in corals works.

“There is a lot we don’t know. For example are these extreme corals already at their limit, can they survive more stress, if we transplant them to more stable environments will they maintain their stress tolerance?,” Dr Camp said.

Dr Camp is no stranger to searching for corals in unexpected places. Camp and colleagues were the first to recognise that the corals they found in the murky lagoon waters of New Caledonia could provide answers to help support coral reef survival in the face of unprecedented global coral reef bleaching events.

With the support of Wavelength Reef Charters and funding from Waitt Foundation/National Geographic the research team surveyed 250km of the northern GBR visiting eight lagoons located on five off-shore islands.

Analysis of coral samples showed that a combination of photosynthetic “strategy” (physiological plasticity) and microbial diversity supports coral survival. However with survival comes a trade-off – the corals had reduced calcification rates, meaning they are growing more slowly than their reef counterparts.

Team Leader of the UTS Climate Change Cluster Future Reefs Research Group, Associate Professor David Suggett, said the study outcomes were important “as we look for innovative ways to support coral survival into the future”.

“It’s likely these mangrove lagoon corals have the best chance to persist into the future given that they are already conditioned to the complex interaction of warmer waters, ocean acidification and deoxygenation predicted for reefs under climate change” he said.

Having just discovered these “tough” examples of one of nature’s most extraordinary symbiotic relationships the researchers say there is a need to help coral survival by giving enhanced protection to these special places on the Great Barrier Reef where corals persist into mangrove lagoons.

The researchers say that because these habitats carry previously unrecognized ecosystem service value for corals, spanning from acting as places of refuge to stress preconditioning, “this makes their protection even more important.”

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From EurekAlert!

37 thoughts on “Extreme mangrove corals found on the Great Barrier Reef

  1. OMG it’s a coral emergency! Er, coral crisis! It’s clearly unprecedented and catastrophic, er.
    Maybe these were subjected to appalling anthropogenic forcings like radioactivity from nuclear bombs. Can’t be natural, that’s for sure. Adaptable creatures – no way.

    • idiots….like there’s no corals in Florida Bay

      …all they have to do is host a different clade of zoox

  2. Re my earlier comment on this story, the BBC and, apparently, the Australian government have just sorted it all out for me:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-49520949
    The report starts:
    “The Great Barrier Reef’s outlook has been officially downgraded from poor to very poor due to climate change.
    Rising sea temperatures thanks to human-driven global warming remain the biggest threat to the reef, a five-year Australian government report says.
    Actions to save it “have never been more time critical”, the report reads.”
    Well, thank goodness for that! I thought the reef might be recovering from the recent large El Nino. Glad to hear it’ll just decay and die now. Thank you so much BBC for putting me straight.

    • yeah I saw that crap too
      Id like to know if they were actual govvy boffins or “commissioned outsiders”
      cos if outsiders I bet the flimflam mans besties got into it somehow.

    • John Collis

      Who to believe. Peter Ridd, probably the worlds leading expert on the GBR who says the reef is in good health or, the BBC (a more leftists organisation one couldn’t hope to find with a reputation for climate hysteria) or the GBRMPA’s chief scientist, David Wachenfeld who has skin in the game seeking lots of nice funding by whipping up scares about the reef.

      Gee – that’s a tough one, but I think I’ll stick wit Peter Ridd.

  3. Corals grow in mangroves in the Cairns estuary, in the muddy narrow channel between Admiralty Island the the mainland. We used to occasionally pull up living coral on hooks when fishing there in some of the deeper parts of that channel on the south western side of the Island (crocs in the area, not a place to go diving).

    • Same in Moreton Bay off Brisbane.
      The corals there were extensively mined for lime back in the late 19th century, but recovered nevertheless.
      And they pretty much still annually get smothered with silt from Brisbane River floods.
      After the 2010 floods, ‘scientists’ were also “amazed” that the coral patches and sea grass fields were back to robust health in about 12 months.
      Don’t these ‘scientists’ ever study nature?

      • Mr.: “Don’t these ‘scientists’ ever study nature?”

        Why would they do that? All it would do is prove their models wrong. Can’t have that now, can we?

      • Actually, they were still mining coral on Mud Island in the early 1970’s. The two coral barges, Cementco and the Morib carried the coral up the Brisbane River to the Darra cement plant.

    • Try the breakwater in the port of townsville – that’s about as tough an environment as there is!!

  4. So, organisms that have been around for millennia can adapt to changing conditions. Who would have thought it!

    • Yup, 535,000 millennia to be exact. Very fragile. They’ve been teetering on the knife edge, potentially plunging to extinction at any moment!

  5. Extreme low pH is what exactly?
    Was this information published anywhere?
    Dr Camp’s page on National Geographic notes she had a grant to do this work from
    2017-07-02 until
    2017-07-11.

  6. “the corals they found in the murky lagoon waters of New Caledonia”

    As a matter of fact New Caledonia is completely circled by a huge barrier reef, which if stretched out would be about as long as the GBR, and the lagoons are no more murky than in Australia, though of course there are mangroves and rivermouths there too, just as in Queensland. No salties though, so nicer surroundings for research

    • The area where we found coral in the inner-most part of the Cairns inlet, had dark thick smelly swamp mud (full of sulfur) all along the banks. During the lowest tides of the year when a King tide drains the inlet there are large mud banks exposed in the area. The coral is growing in a deep hole (we estimated about 60 to 70 ft during high tide) between mud-mangrove covered banks. So pH will be low in that area, the water is dark green and then a turbid brown at low tide. And if anyone’s wondering if it’s really coral we pulled up, and not just a hard sponge etc., I’ve been around reefs most my life, it’s genuine coral, and looks much like that pictured above.

  7. …researchers say there is a need to help coral survival by giving enhanced protection to these special places on the Great Barrier Reef where corals persist into mangrove lagoons.

    I know, right? Corals have only been around for 535 million years. The climate has never been more extreme in that short timeframe.

    Certain to be extinct next Tuesday if we don’t shut down western civilization.

    Oh btw…EurekAlert!

    • However the scleractinian corals, the currently dominant group only has a 225,000,000 year fossil regord, though DNA data shows the group is much older. The early scleractinians were probably soft corals but evolved into reef-builders after the rugose and tabulate corals became extinct at the end of the Permian.

  8. Obviously scientists dont spend much time around coral reefs. I have seen coral growing in mangroves in several countries e.g. Fiji, Australia. This is not a new discovery – they just need to get out more and look at the world outside of the lab!

  9. As soon as I saw Dr. Camp and the UTS CCCFRR Group (did I miss any capitals?) talking about warming, ocean acidification and deoxygenation predicted under climate change, I ceased being interested.
    As Nigel Lawson said, “ a kernel of truth embedded in a mountain of nonsense.”

  10. “There is a lot we don’t know…” Says it all really. Yet we are continually bombarded with the big lie that we are killing the reef when in fact the so called experts don’t have a clue!!! Go figure.

    • yeah and if shes had NINBE yrs of funding..then they should know ..
      Id like to see her nice income pulled and money spent on something useful
      like water supplies for inland via decent new dams

      the bloody reef can do as it does without us
      crown of thorns killing would be the real threat and worth continuing to kill that pest

  11. The “crisis” is the sudden scare of not being able to get their hands on the $A444,000,000 offered for saving the reef. Not sure if it has been cancelled. I hope so, as there are far more important things that amount could be spent on.
    +1 Gary P. I can confirm that the sea temperature is low. 60% of the airflow at my place is off the Coral Sea. End of August and I still got my thermals on.

  12. Every year the Corals “”Sparn”. Billions of eggs are released and drift world
    wide. So if the conditions favour a seed settling, then it does.

    As a matter of interest that is what seeds the Mangroves too, the coconut
    drifts till it finds a suitable spot. Isn’t t nature wonderful.

    We are born, we live , we die. Coral is the same .Bleaching is just a
    part of the cycle.

    MJE VK5ELL

  13. I first dived on barrier reef islands fifty- five years ago and there were corals just like the ones pictured back then. Are these people scientists or activists?

  14. Actually, they were still mining coral on Mud Island in the early 1970’s. The two coral barges, Cementco and the Morib carried the coral up the Brisbane River to the Darra cement plant.

  15. In 1972 I took my first cruise in my yacht up to the reef. Coming south in October I encountered hundreds of acres of a brown & yellow sludge patches floating on the water, & stinking heaps of it washed up on isolated beaches. It stained paint work if not washed off quickly.

    I asked an outer reef fisherman off Mackay what the stuff was. He had been fishing the outer reef since he was 14, so not much formal education. He explained to me it was coral spore, which all the coral released over a couple of nights each year. The unfertilised stuff was now dead forming the thick sludge.

    Would you believe in in 1984 I think it was, 12 years or so later, the marine “scientists” announced their momentous discovery that coral spore was released by all corals in one night in October.

    I have often wondered if one of these scientists met my reef fishing mate in a pub somewhere. They don’t like going 60 or 70 miles out to the big reefs, perhaps they get sea sick, so it wouldn’t have been out there in his habitat.

    • This is a trick used by many life-forms. Everybody breeds simultaneously and overwhelm predators which simply can’t eat them all in a short time.

      Bamboos of a specific species all flower and seed the same year

      The seventeen-year cicadas all come out and breed the same year and within a few days

      All termites in an area swarm and mate the same night

      The cicadas are especially interesting since 17 is a prime number and thus can’t be tracked by any shorter cycling predator. There is a 13 year species too – and 13 is also a prime.

      • masting, mast events

        When trees such as Oaks produce acorns in large numbers.

        Search [ mast botany ]

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