One of the most tangible ways in which we can see the effects of climate change is through the majestic yet delicate coral reefs. These reefs can span hundreds of miles long - like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia - or outcrop as scattered patches in the seascape, but all reefs are important players in the ocean’s ecosystem and which are now withstanding the worst effects of climate change.
The deterioration is concerning, says Qatar University (QU) researcher Dr Bruno Welter Giraldes – but there is hope yet. Dr Bruno is the chief researcher behind a groundbreaking discovery that could help counter coral reef damage.
The ‘Mushroom Forest’ is named after its structural shape; these artificial reefs are farmed indoors and then deployed to the sea, an innovative way that allows damaged coral reefs to help recover themselves, QU has said in a statement.
The problems coral reefs are currently facing, says Dr Bruno, “..are similar with bleaching corals, defaunation and loss of biodiversity. But the amount of healthy reef ecosystem in other marine ecoregions is larger than here. In Qatar, only 2% of the marine resources have still recoverable coral reef ecosystems. We are near to facing the extinction of several endemic species that live only in the Gulf.”
These artificial reefs have already been implemented in the ocean, with the aim of restoring marine life in the region. “The environmentally friendly artificial reefs are already being experimented, evaluating their functionality for farming corals. The fragmentation of resilient coral species was performed, and more than 4,000 fragments have been outplanted in Qatar’s natural ecosystem.”
Noting that Qatar still houses the genetic bank for supporting the improvement of technologies for restoring corals worldwide, Dr Bruno explains the importance of carrying out coral reef research in this part of the world. “The coral reefs here in Qatar are one of the most important on earth. It is naturally adapted to survive in extreme hot marine environments. Coral species here can survive normally in temperatures of 34C while coral species in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia are bleaching and dying at peaks of 31C temperature. Now, with the climate change scenario, the water in Qatar is reaching 36C for long periods and this is resulting in the current bleaching and massive mortality."
Researching ways to restore coral reefs is vital. The outcome "if we do nothing would be disastrous", he noted. “The fishing stock will decrease dramatically. We can lose some pharmaceutical drugs and undescribed chemicals produced by several species when this species gets extinct. Some pests and diseases can emerge without predators and a balanced ecosystem, increasing the chances of epidemics and parasites,” explained Dr Bruno. In addition, climate change can jeopardise economic chains in the society.
Alexandra Leitão-Ben Hamadou, research professor at QU’s Environmental Science Centre (ESC), said: “Qatar University in general and the Environmental Science Centre in particular are striving to develop science-based solutions for environmental national challenges aligned with Qatar National Vision 2030. We aim to better understand the local marine biodiversity and the functioning (or dysfunction) of the main marine ecosystems in Qatar and provide solutions and management strategies to protect the Qatari marine environment. One of those solutions is the 'Mushroom Forest' artificial reef that is allied with active coral gardening to accelerate the restoration of collapsed coral ecosystems.”
Dr Bruno’s work is being carried out in QU’s ESC, which has special clusters for marine biology and oceanography.