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24 January 2022

Corals : the architects of the sea

The PhD Annalisa Azzola explains the consequences of climate change on these fragile marine organisms

Corals are the ‘architects’ of the marine environment” explains Annalisa Azzola, PhD in Marine Science and Technologies at DISTAV, University of Genoa, “They build entire habitats called reefs that represent one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. Coral reefs provide a variety of ecosystem services such as seafood, coastal erosion protection, building material, pharmaceuticals and many others. In addition, touristic local economies in tropical coastal areas are mainly based on the aesthetic value of coral reefs.

Coral reefs are today globally threatened by several pressures, the most impactful being climate change. High temperature induces corals to expel symbiotic algae causing their bleaching and then, if the temperature does not return to suitable values, their death. In the last 20 years, several bleaching events occurred due to the water warming, leading to the loss of entire reefs. In this context, at the Seascape Ecology Lab of the University of Genova, we are monitoring the ecological status and change over time of Mediterranean and Maldivian rocky reef habitats. In particular, in the Maldives we are studying the consequences of coral bleaching and the ability of reefs to recover after repeated stresses and disturbances.

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