Coral reefs in Palau surprisingly resistant to naturally acidified waters

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Posted January 16, 2014
Coral reefs in Palau surprisingly resistant to naturally acidified waters
Despite living in waters that are more acidic than average seawater, the corals living in the bays around Palau’s Rock Islands are unexpectedly diverse and healthy. Credit: Palau International Coral Reef Center
Ocean researchers working on the coral reefs of Palau in 2011 and 2012 made two unexpected discoveries that could provide insight into corals’ resistance and resilience to ocean acidification, and aid in the creation of a plan to protect them.

The team collected water samples at nine points along a transect that stretched from the open ocean, across the barrier reef, into the lagoon and then into the bays and inlets around the Rock Islands of Palau, in the western Pacific Ocean. With each location they found that the seawater became increasingly acidic as they moved toward land.

“When we first plotted up those data, we were shocked,” said lead author Kathryn Shamberger, then a postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and a chemical oceanographer. “We had no idea the level of acidification we would find. We’re looking at reefs today that have levels that we expect for the open ocean in that region by the end of the century.”

Shamberger conducted the fieldwork in Palau with other researchers from the laboratory of WHOI biogeochemist Anne Cohen as well as scientists from the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC).

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