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Palau's coral reefs show differential habitat recovery following the 1998 bleaching event

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Coral reef bleaching, believed to be one of the detrimental effects of climate change, may receive a welcomed "buffer" through effective local management, according to new research by a team of scientists recording the long-term recovery of coral reefs in Palau and elsewhere.

"It appears that coral reefs are very resilient and can bounce back magnificently if subjected to good management practices and 10 years or so of pristine conditions," says Robert van Woesik, one of the authors of a new study showing that reefs off Palau, Micronesia, have recovered surprisingly well from a 1998 "bleaching" event, caused by high sea water temperatures. "The rare piece of good news in the problem of climate change is that good local management practices might aid recovery of coral reefs."

Van Woesik, a professor of biological sciences at Florida Institute of Technology, examined the recovery rates of reefs in Palau during three different periods following the 1998 bleaching in late 2001/early 2002, late 2002/early 2003, and late 2004/early 2005. Global climate models suggest that Micronesia is particularly vulnerable to climate change over the next millennia, and will be likely subjected to repeated thermal stress events and water temperatures considerably higher than historical averages.

Using underwater digital video cameras, van Woesik and his team examined the rate of coral recovery at 13 different sites, and found that recovery rates increased over time; notably, sheltered bay areas, which suffered less in 1998, appeared to support recovery of outer-reef, "wave-exposed sites," by providing a supply of coral larvae to the damaged reefs. The researchers also found that recovery rates were significantly higher between 2002 and 2004 than between 2001-2002.

Because Micronesia is at a great distance from large human population centers, van Woesik hypothesizes that the
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Contact: Jay Wilson
jowilson@fit.edu
321-674-6218
Florida Institute of Technology
15-May-2007


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