Cape Cod Coral Could Help Tropical Cousins Struggling to Survive Warming Waters

Apr 30, 2018

Many long-time Cape Codders would be surprised to learn that there is coral growing along Cape Cod’s shores – no big reefs, just hearty chunks of coral that can survive water temperatures close to freezing.


Loretta Roberson, a researcher at the Marine Biological Laboratory, thinks this unusual coral species could point toward ways to help tropical corals suffering the deadly effects of rising water temperatures.

The Cape Cod coral is unusual because it can survive in a wide range of water temperatures.

"It's found down in the Caribbean in warm water," Roberson said, explaining that she took some of the corals out of the cold waters off Cape Cod and put them in tanks of warm water in the lab. "It was kind of funny, when we first transferred them to that temperature, the polyps came out [as if] they were saying, 'Wow, this is great, what have we been missing all this time.'"

Roberson and her colleagues are testing different types of coral to see which ones can withstand hot water. By looking the genes are helping the corals survive, scientists may be able to do gene therapy for corals in the future to save places like the Great Barrier Reef. But that work remains far off.

"We're still not quite there yet," Roberson said.