As reported by The Guardian, scientists have recently discovered a coral refuge off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania. Thought to be one of the region's final strongholds against climate change, these reefs are thriving with robust red and brown hard coral species, despite warming and acidification events that have killed neighbouring colonies.

Importantly, the refuge is also a wildlife hotspot - home to megafauna like spinner dolphins, as well as rare species like prehistoric fish and dugongs. Researchers believe that this area's survival is down to lower sea temperatures, that protect the reefs and the surrounding oceanic life from the global climate crisis' effects. 

Researchers like Tim McClanahan, the author of a study on this newly discovered refuge, have been searching for coral sanctuaries in the west Indian Ocean for more than a decade. They believe that unexplored hotspots like this offer a renewed hope that the world's oceans will be able to survive the continuing climate crisis.

McClanahan first became interested in the region after noticing that the surrounding coastline has the highest density of dolphins in east Africa. Coelacanths - fish once believed extinct - are also found in its deep waters. But why? The answer might surprise you - as it all has to do with Mount Kilimanjaro.

Coral reef off the shore of Tanzania. Photo by: Michael Markovina. Source: The Guardian
Coral reef off the shore of Tanzania. Photo by: Michael Markovina. Source: The Guardian

The coral refuge, stretching from Shimoni, just south of Kenya's Mombasa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, is fed by chilly water from deep channels in the earth's crust. These rifts were formed thousands of years ago by glacial runoff from Kilimanjaro and the Usambara mountains. Each of these deep crevasses stores vast amounts of cold water, which sinks naturally to the seafloor. There, it is able to cool hundreds of kilometres of coastline - if only slightly. 

This effect has been observed during local warming events, when the region's reefs were spared the effects of the warm water from El Niño and other similar weather patterns. Outside the protected area, the corals were bleached and dying, while inside, they retained their colour and health. And, best of all, researchers believe that they may have located three other potential coral sanctuaries in the western Indian Ocean.

Their research also indicates that careful fisheries management of these newly discovered refuges could also help mitigate the effects of global warming. While warming waters devastate surrounding reefs, sanctuaries could become essential strongholds - where marine species great and small can flock to safety. If well protected, this key marine ecosystem will remain a centre for biodiversity on the east African coast.

Sadly, the climate crisis is far from the only threat to the area's biodiversity and this newly discovered coral refuge. Unsustainable fishing practices continue, and there are future plans for coastal development, including a port in northern Tanzania. Hopefully, this new research will give local authorities the motivation and information needed to better protect these pristine waters.