Coral reefs are reservoirs of biodiversity that play central roles in protecting land from storm surges and erosion, shelter reef organisms, have medicinal applications, and support fishing and tourism industries.
When corals are stressed they expel algae (Symbiodinium) living in their tissues. Since coral coloration comes from its Symbiodinium, the coral will appear bleached white without it. Symbiodinium provide corals with up to 90% of their food through photosynthesis. Corals can also feed heterotropically, but they can die without support from their symbionts.
In the past 30 years, we have lost 50% of corals globally. With temperature projections increasing over time, it is estimated that only 10% of corals will survive past 2050.
Climate change, driven by human activity, is now the main threat to corals. Ocean temperatures increase as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are absorbed. Thermal stress has already caused multiple coral bleaching events at the global scale.
We are identifying and developing more resilient coral stocks to enhance the long-term effectiveness of restoration efforts and protected area designations.
Our project, Coral Assisted Evolution, is developing a biological toolkit that will accelerate naturally occurring processes to enhance stress tolerance in corals.
We must take urgent action to establish a foundation of more resilient corals, or
“Super Corals”. We are testing the following concepts:
Intentional breeding of organisms with a desirable trait to produce offspring with improved traits.
Exposing corals to acute and chronic temperature stresses to increase their ability to adapt to future warming ocean conditions.
Testing new host-symbiont combinations by experimentally bleaching corals and inoculating them with a new clade or type of Symbiodinium.
DEVELOPING GENETIC MARKERS
Investigating the differences between bleached and non-bleached corals in order to test resiliency in coral colonies.
Raising awareness about what a coral is (not a rock!), the importance of reef ecosystems, the threats corals face and the value in human-assisted evolution is crucial to the survival of coral reefs in the future.
Saving coral reefs requires action from everyone! Working on productions such as Chasing Coral and HBO Vice has increased awareness and concern for corals. At the Gates Coral Lab, we invite members from the community to assist collecting coral spawn, monitoring bleaching, tagging corals, and restoring reefs.