May 17 (UPI) -- Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a refuge for coral species threatened by climate change and rising ocean temperatures.
Conservationists say reefs off the coast of northern Mozambique and among the Quirimbas Islands offer two types of refuge for vulnerable coral species, but that they're already showing the deleterious effects of overfishing.
Scientists described the areas of refuge in the journal Ecosphere.
One type of refuge hosts temperature variability -- a slow gradient from cool to warm, but without dangerous temperature extremes -- allowing a range of coral species to both thrive and adapt. A second refuge is found in cooler, deeper water, but features a full spectrum of light conditions, allowing a diversity of coral to populate its protected depths.
Researchers are on the lookout for marine refuges where vulnerable organisms can adapt to rapidly changing conditions. But even refuges aren't immune to climate change and human impact.
Researchers say the newly discovered Indian Ocean refuges must be better protected from overfishing if they are to remain an ecological safe space.
"Northern Mozambique Quirimbas reefs have a variety of refugia, environmental variability, and high diversity that give these reefs a high potential to adapt to rapid climate change," lead study author Tim McClanahan, senior conservation zoologist with WCS, said in a news release. "If this region is to provide adaptive potential to climate change, fishing at a sustainable level and maintaining reef fish biomass, life histories, and functions is a high priority."
Like many marine protected areas, Quirimbas National Park isn't well regulated. Wildlife managers lack the staff and resources they need to enforce the rules against fishing and other detrimental activities.
By identifying vital marine resources, like coral refuges, WCS hopes to inspire governments and international organizations to boost conservation resources and protection efforts.