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By, Scott Sincoff, ENN. Published April 2, 2012 09:28 PM

A new study has increased hope that some coral species will be able
to survive gradual ocean acidification. According to new research
published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, a team of
international scientists have identified a specific internal
mechanism that could permit some coral species and their symbiotic
algae to offset the unfavorable effects of an acidic ocean. In
addition, this research has given hope that coral reefs will also be
able to survive rising levels of ocean acidification.

Besides being associated with allegedly raising the planet’s natural
temperature, carbon dioxide is turning the world’s oceans more
acidic. The research team from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence
for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS), at the University of Western
Australia (UWA) and France’s Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de
l’Environnement states in their report that carbon dioxide is being
released at rates that were thought to extinguish some levels of life

The team also states in their report that research has supported that
some marine organisms, which internally form calcium carbonate
skeletons, have an in-built mechanism to cope with ocean
acidification. Professor Malcolm McCulloch of CoECRS and UWA states
that most coral species appear to have the inner ability to buffer
rising acidity of seawater and still build solid skeletons. “Marine
organisms that form calcium carbonate skeletons generally produce it
in one of two forms, known as aragonite and calcite,” said McCulloch.
“Our research broadly suggests that those with skeletons made of
aragonite have the coping mechanism – while those that follow the
calcite pathway generally do less well under more acidic conditions.”

Despite the groundbreaking research, McCulloch also suggests that
there is a small case of concern. The research team states in the
report that coralline algae-the glue that sticks coral reefs
together-appears to be vulnerable to rising acidification levels.
Another cause of concern is that a large class of plankton, which is
a significant tenet in the marine food web, is equally as vulnerable
to the acidification as the coralline algae.

McCulloch said that the rising levels of carbon dioxide not only
acidify the Earth’s oceans, but also raise the ocean’s temperatures.
In turn, McCulloch states that warming oceans may increase the rates
of coral growth, especially in corals now living in cooler waters.
However, he said that a big question is to see whether or not corals
can adapt to the current rate of global warming. “This is crucial
since, if corals are bleached by the sudden arrival of hot ocean
water and lose the symbiotic algae which are their main source of
energy, they will still die,” said McCulloch. “It’s a more
complicated picture, but broadly it means that there are going to be
winners and losers in the oceans as its chemistry is modified by
human activities – this could have the effect of altering major ocean
ecosystems on which both we and a large part of marine life depend.”

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