Colorful coral reef fish swim in the Red Sea. Colorful coral reef fish swim in the Red Sea. Coral reefs in some parts of the Red Sea are surviving despite decades of climate change-related damage. (Photo: Valentyn Volkov / Shutterstock)

Coral reefs are struggling everywhere – except for this one place

Scientists have made a fascinating discovery about some coral reefs' ability to withstand heat.

Changes in the environment have wreaked havoc on the world's coral reefs. It was recently discovered that large portions of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most beautiful underwater attractions, are either dead or dying.

Climate change is posing a serious threat to the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef.Clownfish swim through the coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Climate change is posing a serious threat to the reef's ecosystem. (Photo: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

The situation is indeed dire. But in one region, coral seems to be not only surviving, but thriving.

Scientists out of Israel and Switzerland, working at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, found that coral reefs in the Red Sea are not bleaching, or expelling the algae living with them, like other reefs do when temperatures rise above the summer maximum. This bleaching is said to be the result of decades of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. But in many of the Red Sea's coral reefs, corals are tolerating these rising temperatures.

“Under this kind of scenario, you would expect a coral to bleach, and eventually die,” study author Thomas Krueger of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne told The Scientist. “We saw nothing of that; in fact, the corals seem to be doing fine.”

Among the scientists at the center of this research, there's a lot of optimism. Namely, they think the durability of the surviving reefs could be used to learn more about how to save the ones that aren't faring so well.

They published their findings in a scientific journal this month, highlighting the Red Sea reefs' resistance to heat and acidification. They think that these reefs are so resilient because they were "evolutionarily selected for heat tolerance during the migration through the warm southern Red Sea after the last Ice Age."

Giant clamThe giant clam's curvy mouth helps camouflage it in the Red Sea's coral reef. (Photo: Derek Keats/Flickr)

So what's next? Researchers say more work is needed, specifically more research on other coral species and their reproductive success under similar conditions. From there, the hope is that the heat-resistant coral can be used to reseed dying reefs elsewhere.

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