While coral reefs around the world are suffering from the destructive effects of climate change; some corals found in the waters of Palau defy all expectations.

In November 2017, Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), in collaboration with Stanford University, received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a three-year project that will aid in identifying and protecting Palau’s resilient coral reefs.

PICRC researcher Victor Nestor, will work alongside Dr. Steve Palumbi, the Jane and Marshall Steele Jr. Professor of Marine Sciences at Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station on this project. In early July 2018, ten members of the Palumbi Lab, from Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, arrived in Palau to continue the search for resilient coral reefs.

Last year, the team visited 40 sites across the main Palau archipelago, in the Northern reef and the Rock Island Southern Lagoon. To monitor these 40 sites, 200 temperature loggers were deployed and 400 Acropora table coral colonies were tagged for future study.

The temperature loggers at these 40 sites tracked the temperature changes throughout the year, to give an idea of the temperature ranges at each site. This summer, the team revisited these 40 sites, collecting the temperature loggers, as well as coral samples from each of the tagged colonies.

By the end of August, coral samples will be collected and transported to PICRC for experiments using coral stress tanks designed and built by the Palumbi group and the PICRC staff.

The tanks expose live corals to a defined heat stress, and monitor their health afterward. Some corals bleach in this treatment, but others thrive and indicate the presence of high heat tolerance.

Victor Nestor, lead PICRC researcher on this project, shares, “in spite of the bad weather, we have had a productive field work in the past two weeks.  We are excited about this work since the information gathered from the field work and experiments could have huge implications for the future of coral reefs.”

Palau corals may point the way for the future. This study aims to provide scientists with a more thorough understanding of heat resistance among corals, and whether or not the location of these heat resistant corals can be predicted. In the end, this study will be practical for identifying and protecting corals throughout the world. (PR)