How a Superheroic Breed of Coral Could Help Save the Reefs

Ravaged by the effects of climate change, the world’s corals are on the brink of catastrophic decline, and time is running out. At the Gates Coral Lab in Hawaii, however, scientists are searching for the magic recipe to breed a more resilient “super coral” with a better chance of surviving.


Not all corals are dying, after all. On the reefs near the lab’s home on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, many corals are thriving. But waters continue to warm around the globe, and corals can’t handle waters that are too hot. Rising water temperatures can cause corals to become stressed and expel their algae, which deprives them of a key food source. This process of so-called bleaching means that the corals could eventually die.

In Kaneohe Bay, unbleached corals sit right next to bleached corals, which makes it a perfect place to study what’s keeping the super coral alive and, more importantly, how to help nature create more resilient corals. If climate change doesn’t stop, all corals might be doomed, but the researchers at the Gates Lab are furiously working to make sure at least some of the animals have fighting chance.

Correction 7/16/18 1:09 p.m.: An earlier version of this video incorrectly asserted that algae are the sole food source for corals. In fact, corals also feed on zooplankton or phytoplankton through their polyps. Additionally, the Montipora Capitata coral reproduces sexually, not asexually, as originally written. We regret the error.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.



Coral in the ocean naturally battle for turf constantly via chemical warfare - hobbyists who keep reef tanks know that certain corals placed next to other ones can take over/kill off the weaker species. Having a “super coral” may not help the overall health of the reef if it weakens the diversity that is necessary to support all the different livestock that depend on each other.