During a critical time when corals are facing increasingly warming water due to climate change, Palau may hold the key to preserving these resource rich ecosystems.

Tropical corals are able to tolerate temperatures between 73° and 84° Fahrenheit (22° – 30° Celsius). Water temperatures deviating just a few degrees over this range can result in bleaching and potentially even large mortality events. 

[restrict] Over the past two decades coral bleaching events have become more and more frequent as oceans continue to warm, yet studies have hinted that some corals in Palau are naturally resistant to warming waters.

Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), in collaboration with Stanford University, has been awarded a highly prestigious grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).This is the first NSF grant awarded to Palau and is intended to support efforts to identify and protect heat resistant corals found in Palau’s reefs.

Mr. Victor Nestor is the head researcher on this project from PICRC and according to him this is an exciting study that could assist communities in effectively manage their resources. “I’m proud to be part of such cutting edge research that has the potential to increase reef resilience around Palau,” Mr. Nestor shares.

Over the next three years, scientists will conduct experiments on thirty reefs in Palau, collecting local temperatures from over 400 corals, and testing heat tolerance using innovative coral stress tanks. This study will give scientists a more thorough understanding of resistant corals, and whether or not their locations can be predicted.  This study will also provide a practical tool to help remote communities identify and protect heat resistant corals throughout the world. Already, the community in Kayangel has helped the team by learning to create coral nurseries and by transplanting over 200 coral fragments.

Furthermore, this project will enhance STEM education for Palauan undergraduates. By partnering with Palau Community College (PCC), this project will provide PCC students interdisciplinary training in field research, genomics, and bioinformatics. Students will learn practical skills that will enable them to collect and interpret stress tank and temperature data.

“We can now test corals to find the ones that resist heat.” Says Stephen Palumbi, lead researcher and professor from Stanford University. “Where do they live? Can we use them to help future reefs?” Through this project, researchers hope to expand what is already known about the geographic range of heat tolerant corals and increase their ability to find resilient corals in Palau and around the world. [/restrict]