Urban Corals Persist in Unlikely Places


A new study finds coral that live in urban areas have some cool adaptations for their challenging conditions - even specialized proteins for defending against toxic substances.

When we look at the state of corals globally, it can be difficult to see a silver lining, but a recent paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science shows hope for corals in unlikely places. In the study, scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science compared the molecular processes of brain corals (Pseudodiploria strigosa) living in urban waters at the Port of Miami with offshore corals at Emerald Reef.

They found the urban corals had adapted to challenging conditions that helped them differentiate and consume healthy food particles over diseased organisms. Specialized proteins were also activated in Port of Miami corals, defending them against toxic substances and water pollutants. They even hosted symbionts (tiny algae that help corals survive) that were better adapted to live in shallow, turbid, high-nutrient waters.

Anthropogenic (man-made) stressors have contributed to coral mortality worldwide. This is especially noticeable along the Florida Reef Tract, which has suffered from bleaching events and the spread of disease. The Port of Miami, with its dense boat traffic, river-stormwater runoff, eutrophication, and dredging activities, presents an “anthropogenic obstacle course” of environmental stressors for marine life. Surprisingly, researchers found a high abundance of healthy brain corals at the port compared to their Florida Reef Tract counterparts.

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Image via NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory