UAE coral study underlines benefit of having world-class institutions in this region

Key to saving reefs around the world from impact of global warming may lie in Arabian Gulf, according to researches at New York University in Abu Dhabi

Fish swim among coral reefs off the Obhor coast, 30 kms north of the Red Sea city of Jeddah, on June 2, 2008. AFP PHOTO/HASSAN AMMAR / AFP PHOTO / HASSAN AMMAR

We all know that climate change is taking a toll on the health of the coral reefs. What many of us don't realise is the gravity of the situation. A study published recently in the journal Nature Scientific Reports indicates that coral bleaching – a process that sometimes precedes death where corals lose their colour – will affect 99 per cent of reefs each year by the end of the century if current climate change trends continue. This is worrying, because coral reefs are crucial to ensuring marine well-being and their health is paramount in maintaining the chain of vitality that energises oceans. Luckily, it may not be all doom and gloom for coral, thanks to the initiative of NYU Abu Dhabi.

As The National reported on Friday, researchers from the university are looking for clues that could one day help coral reefs around the world to survive the onslaught of global warming, underscoring the importance of having world-class research institutions here.

As part of their study, they have performed DNA analysis on corals collected from reefs in the Arabian Gulf near Abu Dhabi and from sites in the slightly cooler Gulf of Oman around Fujairah and Muscat. The purpose is to map out the genome of coral reefs in the Gulf and study what gives them the ability to withstand the salinity and harsh conditions that other reefs could suffer from. The results will help scientists to better understand the super gene that makes them tolerant to high temperatures and determine if coral reefs around the world have a better chance of coping with global warming.

This may not be a fresh revelation. Scientists have previously explored corals' adaptive response to thermal stress. But the current research might eventually lead to remedies against the impact of climate change on coral reefs. This is just one example of how local research can contribute to solving some of the pressing global problems.