Conservationists Discouraged by Madagascar’s Coral Damage

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A group of conservationists undertaking an underwater survey of coral reefs along Madagascar’s southwestern coast reported last week finding massive damage from coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures most likely due to global warming. Researchers working for Conservation International, Blue Ventures and the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that some reefs in the area—thought to have some of the greater marine biodiversity in the world—had lost as much as 99 percent of their coral cover because warmer water had killed off the algae that serve as the coral’s food source.

While the results of the survey were grim, researchers were enthused to discover several small reefs with corals that appeared to be resilient to rising sea temperatures. They are optimistic that such corals could be used to reseed damaged reefs off Madagascar and possibly elsewhere in the world’s tropical waters.

“This survey shows how important it is to locate and protect areas of resilient corals,” says Alasdair Harris, Blue Ventures” research director. “As climate change poses an increasing threat to our marine habitats, these resilient areas could hold the key to ensuring the continued existence of coral reefs around the world and the marine species that rely upon them for survival.”

One potential fix for the problem, according to the conservationists involved in the survey, would be the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in the region to promote the long-term survival of the reefs and the marine wildlife that survive alongside them. But some analysts say that such protections would be too little, too late given the onset of global warming and its effects on water temperatures and ocean currents.