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Coral reefs are under stress but may be resilient

Bernardo Vargas-Angel/NOAA via AP

Human dependence on coral reefs is far-reaching: One billion people rely on reefs for food or fishing income, per the World Wide Fund for Nature. Tourism to the Florida Reef rakes in over $3 billion each year and coral reefs are on the cutting-edge of medical science, potentially providing proteins to fight HIV. But these reefs are quickly dying.

With the right technology, coral reefs — among the most affected victims of climate change — can be saved, Nexus Media reports. American University environmentalist Kiho Kim told Nexus that much of the damage is reversible if the stress of climate change is removed.

The study: One reef-killer is nitrogen-heavy sewage that is dumped into the ocean in some parts of the world. Kim's team studied the effects of sewage waste on a reef in Guam and found that the skeleton of coral can support the regrowth of polyps if pollution damage is remediated.

The solution: Kim says reefs can bounce back if the stressor, whether that's warmer water or pollution, is addressed. New but expensive technology allows sewage treatment plants to extract damaging nitrogen from waste before dumping it into the ocean. "With the proper accounting, the math generally favors paying to protect the coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems," Kim said.