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Some coral reefs are keeping pace with ocean warming

After a series of marine heatwaves hit the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in the central Pacific Ocean, a new study finds the impact of heat stress on the coral communities lessened over time.

While a 2002-2003 heatwave devastated coral communities in PIPA, the reefs recovered and experienced minimal losses during a similar event in 2009-2010. Then, in 2015-2016, a massive heatwave put twice as much heat stress on the corals, yet the die-off was much less severe than expected, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters, AGU's journal for high-impact reports with immediate implications spanning all Earth and space sciences.

The authors of the new study suspect heat-tolerant offspring from the surviving corals are repopulating the reefs, allowing the community to keep pace with warming seas, at least for the time being.

The new study could help coral reef managers identify coral communities most likely to survive in the warming ocean, improving conservation and restoration outcomes.

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