Wildlife

Some coral species are adapting to warmer waters

Rising ocean temperatures are wreaking havoc on the organisms that live there, and one only needs to look to coral reefs to see the extent of the damage. Severe coral bleaching events could become increasingly regular, but a new study has revealed a glimmer of hope. Some species of coral – but by no means, all of them – appear to be adapting to the warming waters, with researchers finding less bleached coral in a 2016 event than under similar circumstances in 1998.

Last year was a bad year for coral. Unusually warm water puts a lot of stress on the organisms, and in response they discharge vital algae, which robs them of nutrients and color. The resulting paleness, known as bleaching, paints a pretty clear picture of an ailing reef, and reports suggest the condition affected about 60 percent of the world’s coral in 2016, including huge swathes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

While there are indications that these kinds of events might become more regular in the near future, a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society has found some good news among the bad. Examining two marine national parks in Kenya, which were among those affected in last year’s bleaching event, the researchers found a significant decline in the number of bleached coral colonies, when compared to a similar event in 1998.

Out of 21 coral species studied, 11 appeared to be hardier against bleaching than they were 20 years ago. In one area, the number of bleached coral colonies dropped from 73 percent in 1998 to just 27 percent in 2016, while the other area fell from 96 to 60 percent. Encouraging as that sounds, the rest of the species studied weren’t handling the changes well, with one seeming more vulnerable to bleaching now than in the past.

Walrus, caribou face extinction risk in Arctic: Canada

Both Atlantic walrus and eastern migratory caribou are at risk of extinction in Canada’s Arctic, a panel of experts has warned.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which met in Whitehorse, said Monday that the number of Canadian northern wildlife species at risk now stands at 62.

“Over the past few decades, the areas inhabited by the few thousand High Arctic walruses and the more numerous Central and Low Arctic population have shrunk and continue to do so. As the climate warms and sea ice recedes, interaction with industry and tourism is increasing,” the experts’ report said.

These threats, layered upon ongoing harvesting, led the committee to recommend a status of Special Concern for both populations.”

The walrus is both unique, and especially sensitive to environmental changes, experts noted.

“Walruses have been very important to the Inuit, both as food and in their culture, and they remain so today,” said COSEWIC member Hal Whitehead.

And “walruses are particularly sensitive to disturbance, and certainly deserve special attention,” he stressed.

The committee also sounded the alarm for eastern caribou. A famous herd, named for the George River, in Quebec and Labrador numbered over 800,000 in 1993.

“The figure has fallen to an unprecedented low of a few thousand animals. A second major herd is also in serious decline,” the experts said.

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