Coral reefs 'weathering' the pressure of globalization

March 11, 2020

More information about the effects human activities have on Southeast Asian coral reefs has been revealed, with researchers looking at how large-scale global pressures, combined with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern, can detrimentally impact these delicate marine ecosystems.

The research, published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, provides the first long-term data on the ENSO-driven synchrony of climate impacts on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems in northern Borneo. Researchers analysed coral reef samples to learn about regional environmental changes, including changes that have occurred during the last few decades.

Lead Australian researcher Dr Nicola Browne, a coral ecologist from the School of Molecular and Life Sciences at Curtin University, said that over the past 40 years, nearly all of Southeast Asia's marine coastal ecosystems have experienced intense pressures, due to large-scale economic development, urbanisation and deforestation.

"The ways that humans use the land can severely impact soil contents and soil erosion patterns, which then discharge sediments into freshwater systems and nearby marine environments, ultimately altering the water quality on coral reefs," Dr Browne said.

"Weather patterns that bring heavy rainfalls, such as those seen with the ENSO climate pattern, can exacerbate these erosion patterns even more, bringing more sediments into the local marine environments, which then ultimately end up affecting the coral reef ecosystems."

Through analysing coral core samples from the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia, the research team revealed decade-long, synchronous climatic impacts on the reef systems in northern Borneo, linking the El Niño Southern Oscillation climate pattern to effects shown on the area's coral reefs.

Lead researcher PhD candidate Ms Hedwig Krawczyk, from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, explained coral cores act as a type of 'record keeper' of the local marine environments, creating fossils which researchers are able to read, interpret and then use to predict future ecosystem impacts.

"Corals incorporate geochemical tracers from the surrounding water into their skeleton, leaving behind a type of record of the marine environment at specific instances in time," Ms Krawczyk said.

"In coastal regions where there is limited, long-term environmental data, such as in Borneo, coral cores provide a critical record of local changes in river runoff and rainfall. These records help us to understand the types of pressures these reefs have been exposed to over the last 30 years, and their level of resilience to future environmental changes.

"Our study testified that both marine and terrestrial environments in Borneo are massively affected by changes in the hydroclimate associated with ENSO, and longer term cycles in regional rainfall and temperature."
The full research paper, Corals reveal ENSO-driven synchrony of climate impacts on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems in northern Borneo, was published in Nature's Scientific Reports, and can be found online here.

Curtin University

Related Coral Reefs Articles from Brightsurf:

The cement for coral reefs
Coral reefs are hotspots of biodiversity. As they can withstand heavy storms, they offer many species a safe home.

Palau's coral reefs: a jewel of the ocean
The latest report from the Living Oceans Foundation finds Palau's reefs had the highest coral cover observed on the Global Reef Expedition--the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history.

Shedding light on coral reefs
New research published in the journal Coral Reefs generates the largest characterization of coral reef spectral data to date.

Uncovering the hidden life of 'dead' coral reefs
'Dead' coral rubble can support more animals than live coral, according to University of Queensland researchers trialling a high-tech sampling method.

Collaboration is key to rebuilding coral reefs
The most successful and cost-effective ways to restore coral reefs have been identified by an international group of scientists, after analyzing restoration projects in Latin America.

Coral reefs show resilience to rising temperatures
Rising ocean temperatures have devastated coral reefs all over the world, but a recent study in Global Change Biology has found that reefs in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region may prove to be an exception.

Genetics could help protect coral reefs from global warming
The research provides more evidence that genetic-sequencing can reveal evolutionary differences in reef-building corals that one day could help scientists identify which strains could adapt to warmer seas.

Tackling coral reefs' thorny problem
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have revealed the evolutionary history of the crown-of-thorns starfish -- a predator of coral that can devastate coral reefs.

The state of coral reefs in the Solomon Islands
The ''Global Reef Expedition: Solomon Islands Final Report'' summarizes the foundation's findings from a monumental research mission to study corals and reef fish in the Solomon Islands and provides recommendations on how to preserve these precious ecosystems into the future.

Mysterious glowing coral reefs are fighting to recover
A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colorful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer 'coral bleaching' -- a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming.

Read More: Coral Reefs News and Coral Reefs Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to