Science and Coral: It's Alive! It's Alive!


"Frankenstein" may have had the right idea: electricity could be used to help bring the dead back to life.

That theory is being put to the test in Bali, where coral reefs around the island are dying off rapidly, the victims of climate change and dangerous fishing practices (like using dynamite and cyanide to kill or sedate fish).

In his Bio-Rock project, scientist Thomas Goreau places metal structures under the water, then pumps low levels of electricity through them. The voltage attracts limestone, providing the necessary building blocks for coral reef growth. Goreau's team then gathers coral which has naturally broken off from reefs and attaches it to the limestone-encrusted structures, where the electricity also serves to revive the weakened coral and inspire it to grow.

According to the Associated Press, "the coral on the structures appear vibrant, and supporters say they have rebounded with impressive vigor. The coral in Pemuteran teems with clownfish, damselfish and other colorful tropical animals."

Goreau isn't alone in his efforts (which is good, because his project needs funding). The Bali people also know the value of their coral, and fishermen have come to realize that they need to protect it in order to preserve their livelihoods. Fishermen tell Al Jazeera they have stopped using cyanide, and they are working to restore some of their reefs:

With simple means like concrete and a brush, they managed to restore parts of the reef. "We have to clean the replanted corals with a brush," Eka, another fisherman, said. "It's important to do this very gently, otherwise the coral will be stressed."

Of course, neither of these methods -- high- or low-tech -- will help if climate change continues to kill off the coral, a process known as bleaching. But according to one new study, some coral might, in the right situations, be able to help themselves by evolving to resist bleaching. The researchers are quick to point out that this doesn't mean that coral is safe from climate change, but say the study "provides a framework for assessing the potential for corals to evolve a greater ability to cope with such changes."

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