Underwater umbrellas are proposed in a study of how to protect coral reefs from climate change.

By Tim Wall 

Mon Aug 20, 2012 03:10 PM ET 

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reef coral death umbrella

Some scientists have excellent ideas for how to protect coral reefs from the symptoms of warmer and more acidic waters: umbrellas. 


The leaders of the United States, China, Brazil and other super powers of climate change don’t seem likely to make the sweeping industrial and cultural reforms necessary to slow the release of greenhouse gases in time to stop many of the effects of climate change. Since the cause of the planet’s fever isn’t likely to go away, some scientists have excellent ideas for how to protect coral reefs from the symptoms of warmer and more acidic waters.

“A much broader approach to marine management and mitigation options, including shade cloth, electrical current and genetic engineering must be seriously considered," wrote Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University, Greg Rau from the University of California, and Elizabeth McLeod of The Nature Conservancy in the journal Nature Climate Change. "The magnitude and rapidity of these changes is likely to surpass the ability of numerous marine species to adapt and survive."

Four Excellent Ideas to Save the Coral:

Underwater Umbrellas: Shade cloths, like those used in agriculture, could protect corals from the ferocious intensity of the sun. The technique has already been tested, and could be used to protect particularly sensitive areas or maintain refuges.

“Shading is not a strategy that can be used across hundreds of kilometers of the reef,” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University, Australia, told the Telegraph. “But it might - at a local level – be able to influence how many corals die.”

NEWS: New Hope For Corals?

Shock Treatment: Running an electric current through metallic structures causes limestone to build up on the metal. Corals and other marine species then latch onto this limestone and create new habitat. The technique is currently being used to replenish reefs in Indonesia that had been devastated by cyanide fishing, rising water temperatures, and coral collectors.

Neutral Waters: The study also suggested adding silicates and other chemically basic substances to the water. The basic materials would help to neutralize the increasing acidity of the ocean’s waters. The increased acidity, largely caused by carbon dioxide absorbed by sea water, makes it harder for marine organisms to build shells and reefs with calcium compounds, since they dissolve in acidic solution.

ANALYSIS: Oceans Acidifying Fastest in 300 Million Years

Breeding and Engineering: Corals could also be selectively bred to withstand increased temperatures and acidity, contend the oceanographers. Just as crops can be bred to withstand droughts and higher temperatures, the hardiest corals could be selected and bred for later release into the wild. For even faster results, the corals could be genetically engineered, but releasing genetically engineered organisms into the wild is a highly controversial idea.

Tags: Climate Adaptation, Climate Change, Climate Impacts, Coral Reefs, Global Warming