(Photo credit: Toby Hudson / Wikipedia)

Warmer ocean temperatures can damage corals and eventually even kill them, so climate change poses a grave threat to coral reefs. But a recent study suggests it’s not time to despair. It’s time to act.

“The key thing that we found is that there is hope for coral reefs,” says Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University. His research team modeled how corals will fare under different warming scenarios.

“And what’s new about what we did is that we considered the fact that corals can actually evolve a little bit,” he says. “(They) can actually evolve higher tolerance for temperatures as time goes on.”

But he says that slow process will only be possible if coral ecosystems are protected from other threats such as overfishing and pollution.

So he says it’s critical to create protected areas where fishing is limited and pollution is controlled. Pinsky says that as oceans warm, the next 50 or 100 years look grim.

“But what we found is that reef conservation and setting up marine protected areas can really boost corals’ ability to evolve and cope with these changes,” he says. “So if there’s work we can do in the short term to preserve specific places, we can think about preserving a long-term future for coral reefs.”

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.