Super Corals: Part 2
In part 1, we talked about experiences that we have had within our own reef tank systems with regard to corals resilience against a number of stress factors. Here we are going to look at a similar phenomenon that is occurring in the wild and was discovered in the last year or two. In south florida specifically, corals have been found hybridizing and adapting to conditions that we would let’s say not think were ideal for their survival.
Super Corals of South Florida
Colin Foord, a marine biologist and co-owner of Coral Morphologic has contributed many things to the marine aquarium hobby as well as to the science surrounding coral aquaculture at large. In his recent Ted x Miami presentation, he discussed a discovery he made of corals that are not only living, but thriving in an area where they were not thought to be able to survive, in Miami’s inner harbor and shipping lanes. Miami’s inner harbor and shipping lanes would not typically be the place you would think of when you p
icture a favorable habitat for branching acropora corals, however Colin and his team have recently discovered them living there. Specifically, what they have found is that some of the corals species have adapted to this areas stressful water conditions, while others are a hybrid of the endangered Elkhorn coral ( acropora palmata) and the Caribbean species called acropora rigida. The resulting hybrid which is called acropora has exhibited resistance to the conditions in the shipping channels. These areas are subject to manmade and natural, stresses like freshwater runoff, manmade pollution, and poor water clarity, each of which is usually enough to prevent many marine organisms from taking up residence there, let alone corals. Not only are these corals living in this less than favorable environment, but it has been observed that the have shown resistance to the recent cold snap bleaching event of 2010 which wiped out many corals that were tens of miles further south, in better overall water volume, and certainly were not subject to the everyday stresses that these ”inner harbor” corals undoubtedly were. Again this gives us another example of corals whose daily lives contain some level of stress, be able to build resistance or reproductively adapt in the case of the acropora blah blah corals to be able to better withstand environmental stress when it occurs. It should also be noted that these “super corals” as they have been dubbed, are being threatened by a dredging project that is being proposed to widen the Miami shipping channel over a few years. The loss of these super corals would be a huge blow to science as they may hold the key to figuring out what makes corals resilient to stresses. It is this very science that could ultimately help us counter all the losses we have seen in the global coral footprint over the last 30 years or so.
Given my science background, I realize that these are all observations and the appearance of these corals in Miami’s inner harbor do not constitute an empirical analysis of corals responses to stresses in varying conditions. That being said, these observations seem to be pointing to an area of corals’ biology that we are just starting to learn about which is both exciting and a bit scary given the pending dredge project in Miami. It would be a very real loss to science in the case of the Miami corals if they are not protected, sampled, and studied, if only due to a loophole in the endangered species act where “hybrids” of endangered species are not able to be protected. What is really needed here is more studies to both examine more of the worlds tropical harbors for more of these industrial hybrids, as well as controlled analysis of captive corals and their responses to point stress events compared to the everyday conditions that they live in.
If you have you had corals in your tank behave or react in ways that were a bit counter intuitive, we would love to hear about it.