When coral reefs, or corals, in general, are mentioned, ideas of picturesque coral reefs that are brightly colored, with tropical fish swimming all around them comes to mind. The mere idea of corals in New England seems a bit far-fetched and a little unbelievable. With global climate change happening at a much faster rate than scientists originally expected, learning about how a New England coral survives in the ever-changing weather patterns of New England, could help save tropical corals in the near future.
New England is certainly no stranger to rapid changes in weather. From extreme snowfalls to torrential rain and storm surges, organisms native to New England have a lot to live through. Especially if that organism is a coral, like the Northern Star. The Northern Star coral is a native New England coral made of hard, calcified coral, and doesn’t get any bigger than the size of a fist, according to a Boston University ecologist, Randi Rotjan. The coral is unique in many ways, and one of the ways that it is special, according to Rotjan, is that it can survive “bleaching.” When coral is bleached, it means that the coral isn’t healthy or that it is dying, turning white, like bleach does to clothes. For example, half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached dramatically as of 2016, according to National Geographic. Coral bleaching is one of the many effects of climate change as the oceans become increasingly warmer. Tropical corals provide an abundance of diverse species and resources that provide the earth with food, medicine and jobs. If the earth warms two degrees Celsius, then corals will cease to exist, according to Koty Sharp, an ecologist at Roger Williams University. As climate change becomes more and more prevalent, even more coral reefs are being bleached. Research collected about New England coral could help combat the effects of climate change on tropical corals.
Corals need “symbionts,” that are small organisms that live inside them. When those symbionts leave, most likely due to warm waters, the corals become bleached. The Northern Star coral is different because it has learned to survive without those symbionts. Not only has the Northern Coral figured out how to feed themselves without symbionts, there is more to this New England coral than it first appears. New England loves its changing of the season, and the Northern Star is no stranger to it either. Researchers in New England are looking further into the full life cycle of this New England coral in order to understand it better and see how they can use the information gathered to help tropical corals. Understanding the Northern Star’s resilience in a climate such as New England will help scientists learn how to help combat coral bleaching in tropical climates.
The amount of resources that coral reefs provide is tremendously important, so figuring out a way to help save them will be crucial for the near future. With global climate change on the rise, protecting resources such as coral reefs will become increasingly important. Understanding how corals live in different climates will help protect corals all across the globe.