A recent article published by the University of Queensland claims new research proves corals living in the low light mesophotic zone could potentially rehabilitate dying shallow water reefs. Mesophotic coral ecosystems are able to sustain themselves on lower sunlight levels. The mesophotic zone, commonly referred to as the twighlight zone, is deeper than recreational divers can go and exists between 100 and 500 feet below the surface.
The significance of this research is that corals transplanted from the mesophotic twilight zone to shallower water grow at a faster pace when exposed to increased sunlight. Dr Gal Eyal at the UQ’s Marine Palaeoecology Lab said “Light is limited when descending to these depths, so it’s a major factor in the livelihood of the ecosystems there. We showed that strictly mesophotic coral can grow much faster when it is transplanted to a shallow reef light environment. In deeper waters the corals experience light limitations, so they allocate their energy accordingly.”
Concerns about the vitality of shallow water reef systems has gained public attention in recent years. The great barrier reef has seen large quantity coral die offs and coral bleaching due to abnormally warm water. Mesophotic coral transplantation doesn’t seem like a silver bullet solution just yet though. According to Dr Eyal “This study shows that while there are restrictions in nature currently preventing the persistence of these corals in shallow reefs, the potential is there.”
It seems that even if this was a sure fire way to help dying shallow water reef systems, the process of moving twilight zone coral to shallow water would be labor intensive and a herculean undertaking.