Terrifying Coral Bleaching Process Caught On Video For The First Time

Posted: Aug 18 2016, 1:56am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 18 2016, 2:01am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Terrifying Coral Bleaching Process Caught on Camera for the First Time
Credit: Brett Lewis, QUT

Time-lapse video shows how coral reefs react to the rising sea temperatures

Bleaching is destroying coral reef systems across the globe. When the water is too warm, corals expel the algae that live within their tissue and give them vibrant colors. And this ejection causes the corals to turn completely white. 

The phenomenon has not been directly observed until now. A time-lapse video reveals the horrifying details of coral bleaching process caused by rising sea temperatures for the first time. 

For this purpose, researchers from Queensland University simulated the coral bleaching process. They placed specimens of coral, called Heliofungia actiniformis, blob-shaped corals into aquatic tanks and heated the water up. The warmth triggered coral bleaching and showed exactly how the corals respond to the heat stress in natural environment. The stunning video captures minute changes in coral reef over the eight-day duration of the experiment.

“What's really interesting is just how quickly and violently the coral forcefully evicted its resident symbionts,” said Brett Lewis who was one of the two researchers involved in the study.

“The H. actiniformis began ejecting the symbionts within the first two hours of us raising the water temperature of the system.”

The impact of rising temperature on coral reef appears seems quite severe as coral reef began to balloon its body within the hours of heating up and violently ejected tiny algae cells throughout the experiment. Despite the fact that H. actiniformis are considered to be relatively resilient to coral bleaching. 

“Our H. actiniformis used a pulsed inflation to expel Symbiodinium over time (seen as greenish plumes in the video) – inflating their bodies to as much as 340 per cent of their normal size before suddenly and violently contracting and ejecting Symbiodinium through their oral openings over the four to eight day duration of the experiments.” Co-author Dr Luke Nothdurft said.

Corals and their algae are tied into a mutually beneficial relationship without with they cannot survive.

“Coral provide Symbiodinium with protection and surface area for photosynthesis, while the excess sugars created by the algae supply the majority of the coral's daily food requirements,” said Nothdurft.

“If the Symbiodinium is removed from the host and does not recolonize quickly, the corals can die…”

Coral reef systems worldwide including Great Barrier Reef are currently in the grip of longest and most severe bleaching event on record, which has been aggravated by prolonged El Nino. 

“Mass coral bleaching events are a concern for scientists globally with recent events on the Great Barrier Reef highlighting the threat of elevated water temperatures to the heath of reef ecosystems."



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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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