NOC: Surviving in the World’s Hottest Sea

The Persian/Arabian Gulf is the hottest sea on the planet and yet it contains thriving coral reef ecosystems.

The majority of coral reef ecosystems are found in thermally stable waters experiencing annual sea surface temperatures (SSTs) differing by less than 6oC from summer to winter.

Even coral communities at extreme latitudes such as those in Bermuda (32N) experience less than an 8oC summer-winter difference. Incredibly, corals of the Persian/Arabian Gulf withstand summer temperatures in excess of 34oC with waters cooling to approximately 16oC in the winter, representing a summer-winter range of 20oC. Given the warming world that we live in, these thermally resilient corals are quickly gaining attention from the scientific community.

Corals reef ecosystems are in demise globally with no pristine reefs remaining and an estimated 30 per cent of reefs already lost.

Stressors such as over-fishing and eutrophication – the enrichment of waters with nutrients – have played a large part in this.

However, the climate change phenomena, in particular the increase of SSTs globally, has led to an acceleration of this demise. Quantitatively speaking , the coral populations of the Persian/Arabian Gulf are already inhabiting warmer waters than are predicted for the majority of coral reef ecosystems by the end of the century – a 1-3oC rise in SST.

These corals, with their exceptional thermal resilience, represent a system of huge scientific potential.

Through understanding the mechanisms by which these corals survive in such an extreme environment, we may better understand and predict the ability of coral populations external to the Gulf to mitigate future thermal increases.

This talk introduces the unique environment that is the Persian/Arabian Gulf as well as the coral communities that survive within it.

It will outline the cutting edge research that is being undertaken at the Coral Reef Laboratory as part of an international collaboration with the New York University, Abu Dhabi. This research will be discussed in the context of elucidating the survival secrets of these incredible coral communities and assessing their potential as saviours to corals around the world.

Ben Hume completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Southampton studying Marine Biology with Oceanography.

After graduating, Ben went on to work at the Marine Environmental Protection Laboratory based at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences before moving on to complete an M.Sc. in Aquatic Biology and Resource Management at the University of Exeter. After his M.Sc. studies Ben returned to the NOCS to complete his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Joerg Wiedenmann at the Coral Reef Laboratory (https://noc.ac.uk/corals) where he is now a post-doctoral research fellow.

Ben is a molecular marine biologist whose research focuses on the coral communities of the Persian/Arabian Gulf, understanding how these corals are able to survive in such an extreme environment and attempting to elucidate the mechanisms behind their resilience.

Press Release, October 18, 2013

 

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