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Hawaiian ‘super corals’ offer hope for dying reefs

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TOKYO Hawaiian "super corals" that have recovered despite living in warm and acidic water offer a glimmer of hope that dying reefs could be saved, a new study shows.

The research suggests the gloomiest climate change picture of a world without the kaleidoscope underwater habitats could still be avoided, according to lead author Christopher Jury.

"It is unfortunately but inevitably true that things are going to get worse for reefs over the next 20 to 30 years, but that doesn't mean it is unstoppable," said Dr Jury, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

"We can still turn this thing around and end up getting back to better than what we have today within a reasonable time frame," he told AFP.

Coral reefs cover less than 1 per cent of the ocean bed but support 30 per cent of all known marine life. They are suffering, with stressors including the warmer and more acidic oceans caused by climate change, as well as manmade pressures including pollution.

The United Nations' intergovernmental panel on climate change warned last year that just 1.5 deg C of global warming could see 70 per cent to 90 per cent of coral reefs vanish.

But Dr Jury's research shows it is possible for corals to survive and even thrive in waters that are warmer and more acidic.

He studied coral reefs in Hawaii's Kaneohe Bay that were devastated between the 1930s and 1970s by urbanisation, dredging, coastal development and the discharge of sewage.

By the early 1970s, shallow coral cover across the bay had decreased by more than 95 per cent nearest the sewage output. But in the late 1970s, the sewage was diverted and the corals began to recover rapidly.

It is too early to say whether these "super corals" could recolonise devastated reefs, and Dr Jury stressed the findings were not cause for complacency. - AFP