Some coral in the Florida Keys are breeding with coral 1,000 miles away more than they are with coral on the very same reef, according to a new study from the University of Miami.
Andrew Baker, a marine biologist at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, says climate change and pollution are most damaging to coral in shallow waters, where die-offs and coral bleaching have been most pronounced.
"We were interested in testing whether corals deep down on a reef could help the shallow waters bounce back again after a disturbance," Baker said. For the mustard hill coral (Latin name: Porites asteroides) Baker's team studied, deepwater coral may not be of much help.
"What our results show is while that is possible, it might take a lot longer than we think for these deepwater reefs to replenish shallow reefs, " he said.
The study sought to gauge how much genetic information was passed back and forth between coral reefs from generation to generations—a common way to measure interbreeding. As it is, Baker said he thinks the larvae landing on shallow-water reefs in the Keys could be coming from as far away as Cuba or the Yucatan Peninsula.
That means protecting Florida's coral may require efforts to boost reef conservation throughout the Caribbean.