Popular Science

There’s still time for us to save the Great Barrier Reef

Just how much trouble is coral in? The answer is complicated.
a red staghorn coral

A staghorn coral (center) near Palau.

Mikhail Matz, University of Texas at Austin

"It's been pretty well established that if you take the present day coral and you put it into the future conditions, it will most likely die,” Mikhail Matz explains. The rather stark phrasing functions as something of an understatement these days. Just this week, a paper in Nature detailed the loss of fully half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef during the back-to-back bleaching of 2016 and 2017.

“But,” Matz goes on, lightly, "does it mean all the coral will die when they get to these conditions in real life? Not necessarily. This will depend on how much they would be able to evolve.”

Matz is an evolutionary biologist at University of Texas at Austin, and, for a coral researcher, his outlook can seem surprisingly hopeful. In a study published today in , Matz and coauthors calculated the likelihood of Australian corals adapting to—and, at least for a while, surviving—climate change. According to their model, some corals on the Great Barrier Reef will be able to stick around for at least another century, more than 50 years longer than current

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