Researcher studies warming oceans’ effects on coral reef life

Narrator: Working to save the waning coral reef population… that's right now, In Motion! Narrator: Most of us know the importance that trees have on our ecosystem. They add depth to our landscapes, provide shelter to wild animals, but most of all they work to scrub the atmosphere of contaminants that humans make… a marriage made in heaven. Narrator: Beneath the ocean lies another world within that same ecosystem, and in this world it relies on a living organism to do much of the work down there as trees do up here. Iliana Baums: Coral reefs grow in shallow waters near the coast. They are really diverse. They support many species we eat– fishes for example, octopus, mussels– and they also build protection for the coast. So they build three-dimensional structures. They calcify– the corals themselves calcify– and they build three dimensional structures and that allows the fish to live there.

And it also protects the shore from wave impacts, for example, storms and so it provides important services to the people living on the coast. Narrator: Iliana Baums, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State, is collaborating with other researchers to aid in the restoration of coral reef systems around the world. Coral reefs worldwide are suffering from hurricanes, increased boat traffic, pollution and global warming. Iliana Baums: Coral are actually… they're amazingly resilient. That means they have an amazing ability to recover from storms for example. But on the other hand they're also really sensitive animals. The corals live very near to their upper limits, in terms of water temperatures. So, heating of the water just a couple of degrees celsius brings them within their..

. within the maximum amount they can take. The water gets too warm, the algae that lives within the cells of the coral leave. Narrator: This mass exodus of algae from within the coral can lead to a loss of color in the animals called coral bleaching, a telltale sign of water temperatures that exceed the maximum level to support coral life. Iliana Baums: If the bleaching episode only lasts a few days or a week or so then the algae come back, the coral can recover. However, if this bleaching episode lasts too long corals will die. That is our major concern. Narrator: Dr. Baums and her colleagues wait patiently until the coral spawn. Then they collect the juvenile corals and rear them in saltwater tanks on land. Iliana Baums: We'll put on scuba gear, spend five hours a day under water observing the animals, sampling, taking measurements and generally understanding what it is that we're looking at.

We're searching for genes that are markers that might tell us there's a coral population predisposed to be able to survive warm water temperatures. We are in the process of you know, building an insurance policy. So we want to get some of these corals in captivity, so in case that their habitat in the wild deteriorates further, we have a captive population we can come back to. Narrator: For In Motion I'm Curt Parker..