When the water around a coral reef gets too warm, the whole community starts to fall apart. First, coral polyps evict their symbiotic partners: the algae that live inside of them, and help provide them with energy. Without the algae’s help, the coral starts to starve and die. Animals that normally rely on the reef—for shelter, food, or a place to breed—pick up and move. As the reef bleaches, snorkelers and researchers who used to visit may stop coming, affecting the livelihoods of people nearby. Literally and metaphorically, the color of the place leaches out.
In a recent paper in Science Advances, researchers present a potential way to stave off such disasters: breeding heat-tolerant algae. As temperatures rise, this tiny member of the ecosystem can still do its job, preventing wide-scale collapse. Its success at slowing down bleaching in lab experiments suggests that “coral stock with enhanced climate resilience can be developed,” the researchers write.
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