“Asking the corals how they feel”

A first coral health monitoring station was deployed in Jordan early August, as part of the joint mission conducted in the northern Gulf of Aqaba by the Transnational Red Sea Center and its regional partners from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI) in Eilat and the Marine Science Station in Aqaba.

The coral health monitoring station consists of a set of sensors positioned at a depth of 6 meters to monitor the physiological behavior of 8 coral colonies (4 Stylophora pistillata and 4 Pocillopora damicornis), while in the same time collecting environmental parameters such as air and water temperature, wind speed and direction, sea level, light intensity at surface and underwater.

It also includes an underwater camera that follows in real time, via a web interface, the activity and diversity of reef fish as well as the pigmentation of corals, and can therefore detect the first signs of a possible bleaching.

The CMS records the photosynthetic performance of microscopic algae that live in symbiosis in the coral tissues by measuring the amount of fluorescence emitted by the chlorophyll pigments. Why? Because most hard corals (with a calcareous skeleton) depend on the presence of these algae in their tissues to ensure their energy supply, and thus grow and resist environmental disturbances. These symbiotic algae capture the sun's energy and transform it into nutrients which represent up to 90% of the corals' energy needs. They also give them their colors. In case of stress, especially due to rising water temperatures, they are expelled, which causes the "bleaching" of the coral and then its death if the stress or the water temperature does not decrease for several weeks and the algae does not return to live in symbiosis with the coral.

This pioneering equipment was developed by IUI scientist Prof Maoz Fine, and a first pilot station was deployed in Eilat in late 2021.

"For the first time we are “asking the corals” how they feel about environmental change by monitoring their physiological performance at high temporal resolution, year-round, and provide real-time data to scientists and policy makers," said Prof Maoz Fine.

"This serves not only for scientific purposes but also as an early warning system for managers who can act to reduce local stress on reefs when stressful conditions develop," he adds.

The Coral Monitoring Station in Aqaba is the latest in a network of such equipments that the TRSC and its regional partners aim to deploy in key locations around the Red Sea in the coming years.

The deployment of this second Coral Monitoring Station in Aqaba was made possible thanks to the support of various entities, including the Ronald S Roadburg Foundation, the Red Sea Reef Foundation, and the Transnational Red Sea Center - as well as the involvement of IUI and MSS personals.

The archived collected data allows researchers, managers, students, and teachers – as well as the public to watch streaming or download data.

Gulf of Aqaba mission 2022_Coral Health Monitoring Station_2_Copyright Transnational Red Sea Center:Guilhem Banc-Prandi.jpeg
The Coral Health Monitoring Station can detect in real time the first signs of a possible bleaching. Image copyrights: Guilhem Banc-Prandi/Transnational Red Sea Center
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