Amid extensive coral bleaching, researchers study thriving 'supe - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Amid extensive coral bleaching, researchers study thriving 'super coral'

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Record ocean temperatures have resulted in harmful coral bleaching across the islands. But at least one species seems to be thriving.

Researchers at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory have been conducting tests on leptastrea purpurea, commonly known as crust coral.

Narrissa Spies, a doctoral student in the biology department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, first developed an interest in the coral's unusual reproduction. After the devastating molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor in 2013, she noticed something else.

"The fact that it survived the molasses spill when everything else died was outstanding," said Spies.

Spies and some colleagues at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory started doing experiments. They discovered that the coral was incredibly resilient.

"We found out that it was the most resistant to many different stressors. We're talking about temperature, sedimentation, chemicals," explained Francois Seneca, a junior researcher at the laboratory.

Spies added, "The term 'super coral' has been thrown around, but also 'tough corals,' the corals that are able to withstand the types of temperatures and stresses that we're looking at in the next 100 years due to climate change."

The research comes as state deals with unprecedented coral bleaching in Hawaiian waters.

Brian Nielson, an aquatic biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said extended periods of warmer water are stressing and killing coral beds.

That trend is likely to continue as temperatures continue to rise.

This summer's El Nino, he said, "has just kind of been a wake-up call."

Leptastrea purpurea does have some limitations, though.

"It's not forming those really nice, voluminous colonies," Senecas said. "We don't consider it as a main reef-building coral species."

But researchers hope the coral will give them clues that will save other corals.

"What specific part this one coral species plays in the grand scheme of things, I don't know, but the fact that it can survive when very few other corals can't, I think it's worth taking a closer look," Spies said.

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