Alaska’s warming waters could slow coral growth, impacting fish

Bob Stone prepares to measure a tagged coral colony. (Photo by Linc Freese/NOAA Fisheries)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said warming ocean temperatures, due to climate change, could slow the growth of some Alaska coral. In a study released Thursday, scientists warned about the potential impact to fish, which take refuge in thickets of coral.

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Bob Stone, a fisheries research biologist, dove in the waters of Southeast Alaska to photograph one group of sea fans — a type of coral. His team returned yearly for a period of five years, and they noticed it wasn’t growing as quickly as they anticipated.

“There is evidence from other studies around the world that show for some corals under warmer conditions, they do grow more slowly,” Stone said. “So it’s surprising to us but important because at least at the present moment our oceans are warming particularly in the Gulf of Alaska.”

Sea fans grow in the waters of British Columbia, spreading all the way to the Aleutian Chain. There are around 136 different types of coral in Alaska waters.

In the future, scientists think ocean acidification could threaten coral, too.

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