Research Highlights

Coastal habitats protect marine animals from ocean warming

Published online 9 September 2019

Coastal marine habitat conservation could help sea animals withstand the effects of climate change.

Biplab Das

Seagrasses producing oxygen bubbles during photosynthesis.
Seagrasses producing oxygen bubbles during photosynthesis.
Marco Fusi
Marine animals require more oxygen as their metabolic demands increase in response to the stress of rising sea temperatures. Now, Red Sea research has shown that photosynthesising coastal marine plants and organisms can fulfil these growing oxygen demands.    

Over the course of a year, researchers from Saudi Arabia and Italy monitored water temperatures and oxygen concentrations at 5 to 10 minute intervals in a Red Sea mangrove forest, a seagrass-dominated coastal lagoon, and a near-shore coral reef. They then recreated these conditions in an aquarium to test the effects of changing temperatures and oxygen levels on swimming crabs, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, damselfish and silverside fish.

The team, led by marine ecologist, Marco Fusi, from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, found that dissolved oxygen levels fluctuated in the monitored waters, with oxygen supersaturation occurring at the warmest part of the day.

Animals exposed to these simulated oxygen-rich conditions during the day were able to more efficiently extract oxygen from the water, even at night when oxygen levels are low, compared to animals placed in an aquarium with normal oxygen levels.   

The study highlights the need for the conservation and restoration of marine flora, which play vital roles in protecting marine animals from thermal stress, Fusi says.  Next, the team plans to investigate marine environments at higher latitudes.


Giomi, F. et al. Oxygen supersaturation protects coastal marine fauna from ocean warming. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax1814 (2019).