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Scientists Cryo-Freeze Coral Reef 130

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the zombie-coral-overruns-the-earth dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Due to rising ocean temperatures, scientists from the United States and Australia are attempting to freeze coral eggs and sperm in cryogenic suspension so that the endangered species can be preserved. Once frozen, the species may later be grown in a lab and implanted in reefs. This could be the only way to ensure the survival of certain endangered species at The Great Barrier Reef."
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Scientists Cryo-Freeze Coral Reef

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  • Coral sperm? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Huh. I always thought coral was more like plants than animals. Anyone here a coral expert or should I check out them wikipedias?

    • Re:Coral sperm? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @01:57AM (#38199332) Journal
      I'm no expert; but they are definitely animals. They can reproduce sexually(since they don't move around much once mature, the do a coordinated mass gamete release and let the water do the mixing). Some can also reproduce by budding or if divided.

      Because they are sedentary, colony-living, and gradually form massive calcified structures, there are certain respects in which their role and macrostructure resembles that of plants(the two are enormously different biologically; but both are the major structural organism of their respective environments)...
      • by Anonymous Coward

        What happened to natural selection? The planet constantly changes, and species die all the time, if ocean temperatures are going to kill them off how do they expect them to survive in a warmer ocean!!

        ""Once frozen, the species may later be grown in a lab and implanted in reefs"". You can grow them in large aquariums but putting them back in a warmer ocean seems to me kinda of pointless. They seem intent on spending money to save something that may or may not be because of man, but when man is solely to bla

        • Re:Coral sperm? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:06AM (#38199634)

          I can see three views here:

          • Optimistic view - once we've sorted ourselves out, stopped acidifying and warming the sea, we can reintroduce them
          • Pessimistic/interfering view - we can re-seed currently cooler waters later
          • Klepto-biologist view - let's just keep hold of everything in case we need it later
        • Re:Coral sperm? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Hadlock (143607) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:23AM (#38199692) Homepage Journal

          What happened to natural selection? The planet constantly changes, and species die all the time, if ocean temperatures are going to kill them off how do they expect them to survive in a warmer ocean!!

           
          I've wondered this too. The seas tend to change by a foot or more every 200 years, with evidence of massive water level drops happening several times in the past. Either Coral is more resilient than we give it credit for, or this wide variety of coral appeared in just a few hundred years since the last major temperature/water level swing. Either way, there's definitely a major clue missing here. Huge chunks of Florida (Miami in particular) sit on top of ancient coral reefs. I mean, check out Coral Gables' Venetian Pool [wikipedia.org] - where did all this coral come from? What happened to those species? That part of Florida no longer has reefs, nor has it had them for hundreds if not thousands of years. I think the Biologists and the Geologists need to get together and decide what's actually going on.

          • by skids (119237)

            The reason is the rate of change in certain parameters surpasses what we think species can adapt through. Yes, evolution and natural selection adapts to change, but the rate at which it absorbs change is limited, as evidenced by past mass extinction events. If ocean acidification were happening on a much slower timescale, then there would be much less reason for concern. As it is, we are setting the stage for a trophic cascade [wikipedia.org].

        • It's not about the coral, really. Heck, whenever people are talking about saving anything in the environment, that's really just a means to an end.

          See, the thing is, if the coral all die off, the theory is that there will be, so to speak, an unfortunate series of events. And that series of events has a small but non-zero chance of causing a mass die off of the human population.

          So what we're buying with this effort is hope, however vain, of our survival.

          Oh, and last, but not least, it's not exactl
          • by foobsr (693224)

            large chunks of our population are due up for a Darwin Award

            Which brings us back to natural selection when the chain of events that you suggest happens. Nothing of big value would be lost.

            CC.

            • Which brings us back to natural selection when the chain of events that you suggest happens. Nothing of big value would be lost.

              I find it amazing how many people have this sort of feeling when it comes to environmental topics, but who get totally worked up about walled gardens or patents. But DAMN YOU! I just looked through your recent history and it doesn't seem like you're one of these demonstrably inconsistent folks. Way to ruin my joke!!

              • by foobsr (693224)

                inconsistent folks

                On a side note, to me it seems that the ability to exert consistent behaviour gets lost thanks to externalization of memory.

                CC.

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            Oh, and last, but not least, it's not exactly "natural selection" if it's caused by careless poisoning by one species.

            If a species cannot survive because of side-effects of another doing its own thing, then it most certainly is natural selection when the species doesn't survive.

            Just because the acting-species is mankind in this case doesnt change shit.

            It also seems to me that certain coral species are the product of crappy mutations if they can only survive in only one single location within our massive ocean, and then also the CO2 levels cant go higher even though historically CO2 levels have frequently cycled way ab

            • by hedwards (940851)

              The difference is that we're very efficient killing machines. How many other species routinely kill off entire species.

              I realize that there's a lot of libertards and otherwise extremely self centered people that genuinely don't give a fuck, but that's why we have a government so that whackos like that don't fuck things up for the rest of us. The science is very clear that allowing the levels to change this rapidly is a bad idea, now if the science later reveals that we were wrong, we can loosen up. Unfortun

            • I agree that humans are part of nature, but I guess what I'm saying from a philosophical standpoint, is that if we just say, "Oops, natural selection!", it's the equivalent of setting someone's house on fire and calling them unfit to survive if they don't get out in time.

              I think "oops, natural selection" applies when the human race kills itself off, but if we do want to avoid that (and I think most people do), then it's wise to consider our effects on our environment before those effects circle back to h
          • Obligatory Matrix Reference:

            I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I've realized that you are not actually mammals. (Smiles) Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. (Leans forward) There
            • by Belial6 (794905)
              I might have been more profound if all sorts of mammals were not known for wiping out their environment and then moving to another area...
            • You have very concisely demonstrated why most of the "philosophy" in Matrix is garbage.

        • Re:Coral sperm? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by xelah (176252) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @06:28AM (#38200356)

          What happened to natural selection? The planet constantly changes, and species die all the time, if ocean temperatures are going to kill them off how do they expect them to survive in a warmer ocean!!

          Natural selection is still there. But natural selection is a process, not a goal or a reason or a definition of what ought to happen. Yes, species die all the time, but that's not a good reason not to try to preserve them, even if they can never be re-established in the wild.

          I didn't think it was ocean temperatures which were the problem for coral (if so, there must be cooler oceans somewhere), I thought it was ocean chemistry and pH? From what I remember of a lecture on that given by someone studying it, higher CO2 acidifies oceans but this also increases erosion rates on-land, washing more calcium-laden water in to the oceans.....and the past CO2 rises were slow enough to keep ocean chemistry much more balanced, whereas the current one is not.

          Maybe I am getting ahead of myself with what there overall plan really is. I am sure there is a detailed plan, even another press article out there.

          I wouldn't personally trust a journalist an inch to get across a balanced view of the motivation of even a single scientist, never mind the reasons for doing something. In any case, I can't see why there should be a specific plan. An obvious reason for wanting to preserve and grow these things in captivity is for future research, which could have unknown benefits or at the very least merely be interesting. And if a reason arises, isn't it better to have some stored coral available, providing it's at reasonable cost? Of course, if you want a 'plan' then how about genetically engineering or selecting and breeding coral to be more tolerant of different conditions?

          • You don't give a good reason to preserve them, either. Their niche will be filled or eliminated by the game changing slightly.
            • by hedwards (940851)

              Within reasonable limits that happens, but it doesn't mean that there isn't valuable information to be had or that in the future they might be necessary. It's extremely far fetched, but they went along with that in Star Trek IV.

              If the process were happening much more slowly it probably wouldn't be that big of a deal, but it's not happening slowly and we don't have a lot of data to tell us what's going to happen if the mass extinctions continue. There is a point where there's been too much extinction and thi

            • by xelah (176252)

              I did give one good reason: future research on it or using it may produce useful information or products. But with huge amounts spent on trading and preserving enormous numbers of ancient human artifacts, historical documents, dinosaur skeletons and old masters just because people like to learn about, learn from, look at and be in the presence of them it isn't a big stretch to apply the same motivation to a species. Many of those were not originally preserved for any specific reason at all.

              And maybe their n

        • That is a valid question. It seems lately that Humans aren't interested in natural selection. We are interested in statis. We wanted everything to remain exactly the same. No changes at all. And if evolution is true, then things will die off regardless of our input or lack there off. Then people run screaming ZOMG! and waste money because we are at fault. And if evolution is a lie, then the same thing happens and they include God in the mix.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          What happened to it is that natural selection is a result of natural processes and tends to happen rather slowly in response to gradual shifts in environmental conditions. Whereas this is man made and both significantly faster and longer in duration than anything that typically happens. If it were more gradual but man made it probably wouldn't be worth worrying about, but natural or not, it's not good for us to have the planet changing so quickly.

          Seems to me that you might do well to crack some books rather

      • Re:Coral sperm? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by blackicye (760472) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:11AM (#38199652)

        Coral given ideal (artificial) growth conditions such as those in Marine Aquarists' tanks can actually grow fairly rapidly.

        In the Marine Aquarist Community both Soft (LPS) and Hard (SPS) coral is usually traded as "frags" (fragments or cuttings off a mother colony,) and they can
        more than quadruple in size over the course of a year given ideal flow, nutrient, light and water chemistry conditions.

      • by xelah (176252)

        I'm no expert; but they are definitely animals. They can reproduce sexually(since they don't move around much once mature, the do a coordinated mass gamete release and let the water do the mixing). Some can also reproduce by budding or if divided.

        I'm not so sure that reproducing sexually is the reason they're classified as animals. Yeast, for example, also reproduces sexually (and by budding or division). Possibly it has more to do with having mouths and eating food.

        • Many flowering plants also reproduce sexually. For example, holly bushes are either male or female. The berries only appear on the female holly bushes and only if there is a male holly bush within 12 feet or so.
        • by treeves (963993)

          There are plants that "eat food". Surely something on the intracellular level, say *photosynthesis*, has something to do with the distinction between plants and animals. Also cell walls vs membranes, and probably some other stuff I forgot.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)
          When you look in depth and get involved with the messy details, drawing a clear distinction between "animal" and "plant" gets difficult. Yeast being one fine example of a hard-to-classify organism. The whole kingdom of fungi being another. (Yeast are not fungi : no cell-wall chitin, nor those funny not-quite-flagella whose name escapes me at the moment.)

          A clearer distinction can be made between heterotrophs (which eat other organisms to get their energy and material needs met) and autotrophs (which can sur

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      Corals are certainly animals.

      BUT, many of the shallow-water dwelling, hermatypic (reef-forming) corals have symbiotic algae of various species living in amongst their flesh. The algae photosynthesise and release the resultant sugars (and possibly other interesting chemicals) into the body walls of the coral polyps (the individual animals). The corals can get a significant proportion of their energetic needs from this source, which allows them to out-grow other organisms on the reef, which is why they're s

  • Sure be nice if we could work on freezing entire human beings this same way. Maybe humanity as a species isn't endangered, but "natural" death means that every human being alive today will be gone within slightly over a century, gone like they never existed in the first place. You could view this as extinction of all of humanity and replacing it with a new population.

    This, by the way, is the reason so many of us believe religious fairy tales. Because if we let those stories go..acknowledge that the most

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It would certainly be an impressive feat(and, if capable of being used on scene, sure would be handy for all those "He needs to be prepped and being worked on by the trauma surgeon 10 minutes ago or he'll die" ambulance calls...); but it would be of only modest use for the mortality problem...

      While frozen, the organism is metabolically inactive(by design). Dead, albeit reversibly so. Simply being cryoed would be more or less identical to dying, save that they can wake you up at some future time. And, if
      • Not exactly the same (it uses time dilation for the age differences) but quite a similar concept is explored in Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War"
      • "Of modest use". You could buy CENTURIES to work on the mortality problem if this technique worked. With enough centuries to work on the bio sciences, eventually we would learn how to strip down and overhaul the whole damn human body, replacing every last broken cell if we had to.

        Not to mention if you ever (within 50-1000 years) developed molecular nanotechnology, you could just deconstruct the frozen human body to a molecular mapping in a computer, repair all the damage in software, and print out a new

        • by Plunky (929104)

          You could buy CENTURIES to work on the mortality problem if this technique worked.

          And then you come up against another problem, that of the future peoples not wanting your ancient presence messing up their society. When there are millions of 'dead' people in storage and the world is overcrowded there will be no incentive to get them out. Nor if the world is sparsely populated.

          Any effective longevity treatment will be for the 1%, make no mistake about that..

          • And then you come up against another problem, that of the future peoples not wanting your ancient presence messing up their society. When there are millions of 'dead' people in storage and the world is overcrowded there will be no incentive to get them out. Nor if the world is sparsely populated.

            Or you could find that you can't stand their society, even if they were willing to let you integrate...

            Pohl's "The Age of the Pussyfoot" is an interesting take on that exact scenario.

        • by rwa2 (4391) *

          "Of modest use". You could buy CENTURIES to work on the mortality problem if this technique worked.

          Heh, amazing how much thought we put into physical immortality, when we could be devoting resources much more effectively into logical immortality AKA knowledge transfer AKA education ;-)

          I'd think that if we had unlimited lifetimes, we wouldn't be in any rush to learn or accomplish anything, because, you know, you could just do it later. And when you die your body of knowledge still goes with you, assuming you haven't forgotten it.

          On the other hand, if we concentrated on transferring our body of knowledge

      • by mikael (484)

        Therapeutic Hypothermia [wikipedia.org] is the closest we have just now.

        Remember there was a short length sci-fi story based on this theme back in the 80's. It was in a hard-cover Nova/Nebula/Supernova awards book, with an orangy-red cover.

        Anyway the story involved a patient going into cryogenic storage until a cure for terminal cancer was found. Unfortunately, for him, and other patients sharing the safe cryo-store, that took around 1000 years, by which time the declining human population had been replaced by androids and

    • by Anonymous Coward

      By 'In this same way' do you perhaps mean something like how they cryo store human sperm and eggs for assisted pregnancy millions of times around the world, every day?

      Or do you perhaps mean 'in some completely different way, entirely unrelated to the story'?

      • Obviously the exact same technique won't work because scale does matter to the laws of physics. However, the fact that sperm/eggs/entire human embryos can be frozen and reused shows that freezing entire human beings is possible in theory.

        As a matter of fact, there are techniques that might work for entire human beings. Google for the Japanese "Cell alive" system.

  • Too late :( (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ihaveamo (989662) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @01:54AM (#38199316)

    I live near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It's bleached. Dead. Its one of the saddest things I have ever seen. Lots of tourists coming over asking where the "colorful" reef is, like in the brochure. I reply "oh, like in the 80's? Your 30 years too late". If you want proof of global warming / ocean acidification, look no further.

    Well maybe not too late, but just in time.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Reminds me of visiting Key West, Florida and going out on a diving boat. All those dead, white coral heads. Thank pollution, treasure hunters for it. Yeah, Humans - the animal that fouls its nest for fun and profit.

      • Reminds me of visiting Key West, Florida and going out on a diving boat. All those dead, white coral heads. Thank pollution, treasure hunters for it. Yeah, Humans - the animal that fouls its nest for fun and profit.

        actually most of that reef is dead because of the overuse by tourists who have no idea why they shouldn't stand and kick the reefs. There are live reefs around there but not that any of the tourist boats will take tourists to. even the ones that aren't totally bleached still have problems, but the tourist trap ones are totally destroyed.

      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        Against my better judgment (well, I actually trust most of the /. crowd when it comes to environmental issues), I'd recommend the coral reefs in http://www.islaculebra.com/puerto-rico/snorkeling.html [islaculebra.com]

        It's actually surprising cheap to get there from the US East Coast... fly to SJU, hire a jerry taxi to take you to the Fajardo ferry, and camp at Flamenco beach for $20 a night. It's just barely inconvenient enough to keep most of the bozos out. We've often gone over winter break, and it's nearly empty that ti

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "I live near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It's bleached."

      The Great Barrier Reef suffers from periodic bleaching events, thought they're likely to get worse in the future. The coral, so far, mostly recovers between events.

    • Re:Too late :( (Score:5, Informative)

      by gregrah (1605707) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @02:26AM (#38199458)
      Another possible explanation for why the reef isn't as colorful [wikipedia.org] as in the brochures: cheating on the part of the photographers.

      The longer wavelengths of sunlight (such as red or orange) are absorbed quickly by the surrounding water, so even to the naked eye everything appears blue-green in color. The loss of color not only increases vertically through the water column, but also horizontally, so subjects further away from the camera will also appear colorless and indistinct. This effect is true even in apparently clear water, such as that found around tropical coral reefs.

      Underwater photographers solve this problem by combining two techniques. The first is to get the camera as close to the photographic subject as possible, minimizing the horizontal loss of color. Wide-angle lenses allow very close focus, or macro lenses, where the subject is often only inches away from the camera. Many serious underwater photographers consider any more than about 3 ft/1 m of water between camera and subject to be unacceptable. The second technique is the use of flash to restore any color lost vertically through the water column. Fill flash, used effectively, will "paint" in any missing colors by providing full-spectrum visible light to the overall exposure.

      • Re:Too late :( (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ckhorne (940312) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:18AM (#38199678)

        As both an underwater photographer and a reef keeping hobbyist, I'd have to refute your claim. When you dive, your brain fills in the missing reds, yellows, etc - you don't notice the lack of color underwater near as much as you think you would. You definitely notice bleaching however - the coral is stark white at first, and then then becomes brown or green with algae.

        It's certainly true that underwater strobes provide fill light to corals in exactly the same way that a studio photographer will use strobes to light his model. However, if the colors aren't there to begin with, they're not going to be magically created by the strobes.

        In the end, the grandparent poster was correct- either the picture was from years ago or the photo may have been taken from a different part of the world.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Yeah here is the first photo [tws3d.com] I came across with a Yahoo Search, the thing looks like snow on the water. I kinda doubt that all the flash in the world is gonna make that look like the old Mutual of Omaha videos.

          The problem as I see it is we in the west can't really do shit. if we try to without China and India getting involved all we do is commit economic suicide while they just crank out the pollution. unless we in the west are ready to tell the money men to fuck right off and adopt a true isolationist s

          • by Joce640k (829181)

            The problem as I see it is we in the west can't really do shit.

            Stop buying Chinese goods and stop outsourcing to India?

            • by xelah (176252)

              The problem as I see it is we in the west can't really do shit.

              Stop buying Chinese goods and stop outsourcing to India?

              That won't, in the end, stop China and India from developing and industrializing. Some manufacturing would certainly move back to western countries and maybe be done more energy efficiently and cleanly, but as China and India develop consumption by their own populations that'll swamp the effect of western consumption.

              That's certainly not an excuse for not doing anything! Ultimately, everyone on the planet should use only their fair share of its pollution absorbing capacity. China and India themselves may wi

          • by Olduvai (1153083)
            Can't do shit or don't give a shit? Relax, your grand-children won't even know what they're missing.
          • The problem as I see it is we in the west can't really do shit. if we try to without China and India getting involved all we do is commit economic suicide while they just crank out the pollution.

            I suppose that's as good an excuse as any for not taking the lead.

            I'm getting close to 60 years old and I recall a time in the past when the west (and the US specifically) used to lead the world. It seems like that time is slipping away.

            • by hairyfeet (841228)

              Sorry old dude but in case you missed the memo we're broke as a joke and China has all teh monies. The entire USA is being run by a handful of banksters and politicians that spend on pointless BS like an 11th aircraft carrier while going through borrowed money like its free.

              Expecting the USA to take the "lead" on anything but killing brown people and kissing Israel's booty (thanks to the "Jesus won't come back! Come back Jesus, come back!" brigade) at this point is like wishing Patton would rise from the

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        I take it you've never been to the great barrier reef. Quite a lot of it is right on the surface of the water which is why it shows up quite clearly on satellite pictures. Less than 1metre deep the vertical loss of light is not all that relevant yet. Find a spot with live corals in it and the view will blow your mind.

        Also there's a big difference between dull, blue, and bleached. Much of the coral here isn't dull, it's flat out white. This also happens to show up quite well when you get up close to it and u

        • by gregrah (1605707)
          For the record let me just say that I went scuba diving at the great barrier reef back in 2005.

          It was a wonderful experience that I'll never forget, and it is a great shame that climate change is causing the coral to become bleached and die off. However, everything that I saw - including the fish, which to the best of my knowledge do not suffer the same effects of bleaching that coral does - was without question much less colorful than what is shown in the travel brochures.

          Again - I'm not disputing t
        • Quite a lot of it is right on the surface of the water which is why it shows up quite clearly on satellite pictures. Less than 1metre deep the vertical loss of light is not all that relevant yet. Find a spot with live corals in it and the view will blow your mind.

          Of course. Many corals need an incredible amount of light to be happy...which is why they're pretty much all located close to shore

          ...which is why a lot of them are dead. Global warming/acidification aren't good of course, but mostly it's water

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by robow (1609129)
        Here is a cool trick, in the Summer take a hand full of M&M's, dive to the bottom of a pool and take a look. If you have more than about 4 feet of water over you you will not be able to tell the red from the blue. Red wavelengths of light are generally filtered out after a meter or so of water. The deeper you go the more color gets lost.
        • So you do this before they melt? Because they will melt almost immediately under any amount of water.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe some of the reef near you is bleached, but to say the reef (which is huge) is dead is hyperbole.

    • Sounds like the American Northwest...if you can remember what it looked like in the '70s and '80s, you prefer lots of altitude when you fly over so that you can't see the mountainsides which have been swept entirely clean or where variety has been replaced by monoculture.
  • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @02:12AM (#38199380)
    The news clip [abc.net.au] broadcasted last evening on ABC.
  • A better idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @02:23AM (#38199438)

    This could be the only way to ensure the survival of certain endangered species...

    Or, you know, we could clean up our act and treat the earth better. I'm pretty sure that one of the species that is going to be endangered is us if we don't.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      But then we might have to pay taxes, and government is inherently evil and taxes are socialist.

  • And just like that we've got a wonderful outline for a sequel to Finding Nemo, as they try to recover coral eggs that the humans have stolen. :)

  • sounds yummy... like the astronaut food they sell at the Smithsonian.
  • This is what we need: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_monkeys [wikipedia.org]

    In "Coral Reef" flavor.

    If we can convince a private company to produce coral versions of these we're all set. The company can profit from the sales as novelty items for kids with short attention spans. And scientists can just empty a packet into a fish bowl of water whenever needed.

    Win-Win all around.

    We might need to do a bit of work on the lifespan issue, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Where the hell are we going to 'plant' these things after ruin the reefs that exist...

    Save some now so we can destroy the reef and then fix it and THEN replant... Instead of um... idk.. just not fucking up the reef in the first place?

    I think i see a wasted step here...

  • So, they are actually killing them to help "prevent extinction"?
  • That the coral was frozen while trying to deliver a pizza to I. C. Weiner .
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @07:49AM (#38200620) Journal

    Aren't corals one of the oldest lifeforms on the planet? As far as I recall, they've survived at least a couple of the 'great extinctions' - so as a widespread species they're at least 200 million years old. I know they're found abundantly in fossils at least 100 million years old.

    And within that last 200 million years, the earth has been (both) substantially warmer and colder for long periods of time, as well as strikingly quick changes of several degrees in both directions (fast enough to appear as 'instant' in a climatological scale - otherwise comparable to the current shift). So clearly they can survive both large and quick changes.

    So how is it that they're so desperately endangered? Is it that "corals" are at risk (as the news stories say) or is it that THESE corals are at risk but there are other places that were formerly unfavorable to corals that are now optimal?

    I am not a coral scientist, so if someone could explain, that would be great.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @08:55AM (#38200920)

      No. In a number of ways. Firstly, corals and the group to which they belong (Phylum Cnidaria) are indeed very ancient animals, and are found as fossils all the way back to the latest Precambrian, probably about 600 million years ago or so. There are older fossils, but they are single-celled creatures. Those go back at least 3 billion years or more. So, oldest animals, maybe. Oldest lifeforms, not by a long shot.

      Modern day corals are a bit of an oddity because they are very young. They date from the middle Triassic Period and younger (~230 million years ago). There were many types of reef-building corals in the earlier Paleozoic era (545-250 million years ago), but they *all* became extinct during the biggest mass extinction at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods. For ~20 million years there were no coral reefs in the world at all until the modern scleractinian corals evolved. It is thought that these originated from mostly soft-bodied sea-anemone-like cnidarians after the original Paleozoic corals were wiped out, and there are a few fossils known of similar creatures from the Paleozoic, but they were a minor group until the others became extinct.

      So, you are right about the implication that corals can survive some pretty tough stuff. On the other hand they have been entirely wiped out by major changes and it took evolution of an entirely new group before coral reefs became reestablished after about 20 million years or so. It's more like they "started over" from non-reef-building forms than survived that event.

      The modern-day corals are mainly endangered because of changes in ocean chemistry related to increasing CO2 content in the atmosphere and the effect this has on their ability to grow skeletons. This is quite bad for them. Extinction kind of bad. Probably not enough to cause all of them to become extinct everywhere, but pretty likely to decimate them if it keeps going.

    • by robow (1609129)
      Not long ago I saw a documentary about the evolution of coral. It discussed how there are only a handful of species and the rest are a hybrid mix of those. They explained how these "true" corals were very resilient and could survive when others died off; then when conditions permitted the other hybrids would return. They also discussed how ocean levels aided in the propagation of the corals, and allowed them to spread.
  • If the oceans degenerate to the point where no coral is left we are going to have bigger problems than "think of the coral". Valiant effort, yes, however I wish Science/People would focus on addressing the bigger problem; the reason the ocean is warming in the first place.

    • If the species that were part of the ecosystem are killed off one by one, treating it only on the "big picture" level is going to create numerous disasters that can be avoided by planning and forethought.. Like focusing only on the firewall and ignoring internal security under the claim that "once they're inside our network, we have bigger problems", cleaning up after the "big problem" is solved becomes much more difficult if the "littler problems" are entirely ignored.

      Perhaps we can think of this effort as

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Thousands of scientists are. They all say reduce CO2 and water pollution.

      Half of the people choose not to pay attention to them, or ridicule them for trying to get them to 'change'.

  • From coral to rhinos, ensure you can grow it outside its original environment.

  • We've destabilized the climate and destroyed a lot of the coral habitats owing in great part to their temperature sensitivity. Seeing as they're a key species for providing habitat to whole ecosystems, I have this really odd idea. What if we selectively breed or modify coral species for greater resilience to these hostile conditions, and reintroduce them to hold onto reefs that are otherwise lost?

    These are methods usually associated with liquidation of environmental capital. They should totally give you

  • In discussions of coral and global warming, what is really being discussed is tropical coral. That is coral that lives in water that is less than 50 ft deep and is in water that is generally warmer than 18 C (64F).

    All of that coral on the planet Earth (yes, all of it) is less than 10,000 years old. All of the coral that was alive 20,000 years ago died when the last ice age ended and the ocean levels changed by > 400ft. All of the Earth's previous coral died as it was too deep to survive the new d

  • "NASA and the U.S. Solar Observatory has said to expect moderate global cooling for the next three decades due to a quiet period on the sun, and a consequent cooling of the Pacific Ocean’s huge heat mass." http://junkscience.com/2011/11/22/earths-embarrassing-lack-of-warming-since-1998/ [junkscience.com]
  • During the last ice age, the ocean levels dropped ~40 meters and has since risen to its current level. If the coral reefs can withstand that change, it can withstand the changes whatever small changes we got in the past decades.

  • by koan (80826)

    So much tech, so many minds involved in trying to save the World when all we really need to do is admit we circumvented Mothers checks and balances with our medicine and technology and agree that we need World wide population reduction immediately, now, not tomorrow.

    Just grow up and admit we are the plague of locust, we are the problem, the 7 billion ignorant, greedy animals sucking the planet dry.

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