Although it has been widely known or at least suspected in the scientific community that the GFP (green fluorescent protein) is the main element responsible for contributing to the protection of corals such as green, blue, purple or pink Acropora from intense UV and sunlight exposure, recent studies tend to point out that another type of protein, called chromoprotein – which is commonly found in pink and purple corals of this species – may also play a major role in acting as a sunscreen for the symbiotic corals.
How Pink Acropora Defends against Harmful Light
Researchers now believe that Acropora species which use pink pigments often benefit from the resilient properties of chromoprotein. Discovered to be related to GFP, this protein, together with similar proteins that are closely connected to the same properties that make GFP so effective, plays the role of defending the coral from substantial amounts of sunlight.
An important difference between chemoprotein and GFP, however, is the fact that the former does not re-emit the light. Growing in exposed areas that contain basically no symbiotic algae, the development of the protein is cleverly triggered by the excess light itself, allowing it to practically “terraform” the areas of the coral that were not previously ripe to be colonized by the algae.
The Effect of Bleaching and Other Threats
Although light is an important factor for maintaining the health of pink Acropora and various other colors and species of corals that rely on pigments for balancing their intake of UV rays, the changes in the water’s salinity, temperature and nutrient levels are also important to keep into account.
The process of bleaching, caused by these unbalances in the ecosystem, is basically a cry for help from colored corals, showing exactly how the simple change from pink to white can leave these otherwise resilient life forms completely lifeless.
Even though the use of chromoprotein has been observe to confer Acropora with additional protection which also ties in with the protein’s increased resilience in the face of environmental circumstances that would cause bleaching in other species, the fact remains that it will still not defend them from other harmful influences, such as water pollution, overfishing and coastal development.
According to scientists, despite the major threat that the elements presented here can pose for future Acropora coral populations, there is still hope. Efforts to understand the process through which the pigmentation process acts to prevent intense sunlight exposure for pink Acropora, as well as the role it plays in balancing the coral’s relationship with the environment, may provide important clues for improving the coral conservation and restoration processes already underway.