Stunning images show how coral reefs could become a reality on Wales' beaches

A diver inspects a coral nursery near Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey
-Credit: (Image: OST)

Coral reefs, known for their vibrant biodiversity, are sadly under threat. With the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia currently experiencing its fifth mass bleaching event in eight years focus has shifted to global restoration projects aiming to preserve these underwater ecosystems.

As global sea temperatures continue to rise scientists believe that waters once considered temperate may play a crucial role in the conservation of tropical coral reefs. It might seem like a stretch but there's speculation that the coastal waters off Wales could potentially become "breeding grounds" for replacement reefs in the future.

Ocean Science and Technology (OST), a leading information hub for the marine and offshore sector, has been examining some of the world's most significant rescue efforts currently in progress. With technology being developed to create and replant coral reefs OST suggests that, if current warming trends persist, the UK could host reef nurseries in the coming decades.

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To illustrate this possibility, OST conducted a theoretical exercise to show how parts of the Welsh coastline might appear if coral farming were to occur. Using AI they developed images of popular coastal areas in Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire as they might look in 2074.

Current conservation efforts for reefs are diverse, ranging from the cultivation of climate-resilient corals to the development of seaweed farms that can capture carbon and mitigate ocean acidification. Australia is a hub of innovation in this field with inventions such as the RangerBot that patrols reefs to neutralise threats without harming surrounding habitats, reports NorthWalesLive.

Another innovative approach is the Modular Artificial Reef Structure (MARS) developed in Melbourne. This system facilitates coral transplantation using modular ceramic components – a material that mimics natural reef formation. The MARS system has already demonstrated its effectiveness in deep-water environments in the Maldives.

A diver examines a coral nursery off Tenby, Pembrokeshire
A diver examines a coral nursery off Tenby, Pembrokeshire -Credit:OST

OST stated: "The variety of technologies being used suggests that coral reefs coming to lesser-predictable shores isn't a far-gone idea. 3D printing is taking place in Melbourne helping coral reefs to grow new colonies through printing techniques."

"Meanwhile, in Queensland, researchers have created RangerBots that can identify reef health by creating 3D maps. They can be used to and track changes to ecosystems enabling scientists to react quicker than ever before."

Corals grow in shallow waters at Llangrannog beach, Ceredigion
Corals grow in shallow waters at Llangrannog beach, Ceredigion -Credit:OST

Coral production is already happening in Britain – albeit in laboratories. Derby University may be 75 miles from the sea but it's pioneered techniques that enable corals to reproduce in aquariums.

Amazingly the UK is home to its very own stunning coral reefs. Located in the cooler depths of western Scotland's seas these vibrant cold-water reefs are on par with their balmy tropical equivalents. Packed with Lophelia pertusa it's the only type of coral that forms reefs in these British waters. The area they cover stretches for an impressive 100 square kilometres.

Divers harvest corals from a nursery by South Stack lighthouse on Holy Island, Anglesey
Divers harvest corals from a nursery by South Stack lighthouse on Holy Island, Anglesey -Credit:OST

Interestingly some coral colonies are freshly formed less than five years old and appear to be continually growing. However the largest proportion of these Scottish reefs is time-honoured. A statement from The Wildlife Trusts reads: "Lophelia reefs grow very slowly – only between 4mm-25mm per year. As such the biggest reefs are likely to be thousands of years old with some recorded as growing in iceberg plough marks made during the last ice age."

Even though Britain boasts such marvels our waters have a long journey ahead before being even remotely classified as tropical. Over the preceding four decades worldwide sea surface temperatures have seen an increase of 0.6C.

Additionally there are signs this warming trend is picking up pace. OST data has shown projections of ocean temperatures heating by 0.2C globally – and between 0.2C-0.3C in Europe – every five years.

divers harvest corals from a nursery near Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey
Divers harvest corals from a nursery near Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey -Credit:OST
Corals grow in shallow waters on the Gwynedd coastline
Corals grow in shallow waters on the Gwynedd coastline -Credit:OST

Subsequently, by 2074, we could be looking at a 2C-3C rise in value in UK waters. Given average late summer sea-surface temperatures peak at 15.4C in Porthmadog, Gwynedd, currently even after such a rise, local seas would fall short of reaching 20C, which is considered as the threshold for tropical waters.

Last year the Met Office reported a marine heatwave that saw UK waters reach temperatures up to 5C above average. At Anglesey Sea Zoo daily monitoring of Menai Strait waters indicates coastal temperatures are approaching tropical levels.

Frankie Hobro, owner and director of the zoo, said: "In August into September we've been getting water temperatures of 18C-19C and occasionally 20C. These are what you would expect to see in the Mediterranean.

"As the sea continues to warm, we're having to turn on our water tank chillers earlier in the year to cool our native marine species. The chillers used to go on in late May or even June. Now they're being switched on as early as April."

The idea of Welsh coastlines serving as nurseries for tropical corals isn't as implausible as it once seemed. While OST's generated images of coral farming in Wales are heavily distorted they offer a peek into a potential future that experts believe could become a reality.