A new Japanese study has documented corals â€˜fleeing' north to reach cooler waters for the first time ever.
Although previously there have been observations of corals 'moving home' due to global warming, the study by the Centre for Global Environmental Research in Tsukuba, Japan found that sea surface temperatures in Japanese waters had risen by 0.7–2.4°C in the past 100 years.
Of nine coral species surveyed they found that four of the species had moved northwards since 1930 while the other five had remained stable. One species was documented to be 'sprinting' north at the rate of 14km a year. This compares to the average rate of average rate of range expansion for animals living on the sea floor of speeds of less than 5km a year.
The authors say that this means that ocean ecosystems could shift rapidly in the face of climate-change impacts such as warming seas. There are also a number of other places where the ocean currents run polewards where we may see this phenomena duplicated such as along the east coasts of the United States, South America, Africa and Australia.
Paul Sammarco of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Chauvin also studies coral and he believes that these findings back up his own, that higher temperatures will bring about new ecosystems in the middle of the tropical oceans. He is quoted saying: "I'm predicting pretty much total extinction of corals in the zone."
Lead author of the paper Hiroya Yamano reiterates: "For corals it is good news, but for ecosystems, maybe not."