Young people are famous for making bad decisions. Confident in their invincibility, kids often take risks that adults would never dream of taking. In most cases, it works out ok: the child learns a valuable lesson and is no worse for the wear.
But a recent study from the School of Biological Sciences and Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland found that rising levels of acid in the world’s oceans is causing baby coral to make some bad decisions, and putting the entire species at risk.
According to a study published in the April edition of Ecology Letters, increasingly acidic conditions in the ocean confuse swimming coral larvae, causing them to settle in places that are not suitable for their survival.
“The coral larvae normally have this amazing ability to settle on one particular type of rock-like seaweed called Titanoderma,” said the report’s lead author and research scientist Christopher Doropoulos. “This stony seaweed is a safe haven for young corals, yet we found that, as levels of ocean acidification increased, the coral larvae avoided this seaweed and started to settle absolutely anywhere.”
Ocean acidification occurs when carbon molecules diffuse into the ocean from the atmosphere, causing a steady rise in acidity. Human development is thought to be the cause, as the use of fossil fuels increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Without this special type of seaweed to act as their nursery, the young coral are more likely to die before selecting a permanent home. And when coral populations dwindle, it spells disaster for marine diversity.
Professor Peter Mumby, head of the Marine Spatial Ecology Laboratory, said the study warned of severe consequences for coral reefs.
“Our study identifies three major negative impacts of ocean acidification on baby corals. It reduces the number of corals settling, it disrupts their behaviour so that they make unwise decisions, and reduces the availability of the most desirable substrate for their survival. This may have severe consequences for how coral reefs function and how they recover from major disturbances.”