Some bleaching corals undergo an, until now, mysterious transformation – emitting a range of different bright neon colours.
A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colourful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer ‘coral bleaching’ – a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming. The scientists behind the research think this phenomenon is a sign that corals are fighting to survive.
Many coral animals live in a fragile, mutually beneficial relationship, a ‘symbiosis’ with tiny algae embedded in their cells. The algae gain shelter, carbon dioxide and nutrients, while the corals receive photosynthetic products to fulfil their energy needs. If temperatures rise just 1˚C above the usual summer maximum, this symbiosis breaks down; the algae are lost, the coral’s white limestone skeleton shines through its transparent tissue and a damaging process known as ‘coral bleaching’ occurs.
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Image via University of Southampton