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A section of a 160-million-year-old coral reef from Wiltshire has gone on display in the Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea exhibition.
Some of the corals in the fossil block are relatives of species alive today, meaning they survived the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs (at least those that didn’t become birds).
The corals lived during the Late Jurassic period, at a time when carbon dioxide levels were higher than they are now, in seas that were warmer than today. This suggests they are capable of surviving in a warmer world.
However, the current plight of corals worldwide due to changing ocean conditions suggests they may not be able to survive the current pace of climate change. Museum coral reefs researcher Dr Ken Johnson says:
‘By researching historical fossil corals like this, we can understand and predict the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on coral reefs over time. This 160-million-year-old specimen is an ancestor of some of the corals on our planet today, showing us that a sustainable future for coral reefs is possible.’