A new study finds that the number of young corals on tropical reefs has declined by a sharp 85 per cent and instead doubled on subtropical reefs, all within the last forty years.
The findings indicate that coral reefs are retreating from equatorial waters and establishing new reefs in temperate regions.
The study states that as global warming and climate change warms oceans, subtropical regions are becoming more hospitable to corals than the equatorial regions they originally thrived in.
Inhospitable equatorial climate is causing coral larvae to drift and settle in new subtropical places and these reefs could provide refuge for other species being challenged by climate change and new opportunities to protect fledgling ecosystems.
"Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species," said Nichole Price, senior researcher of the study published in the Journal of Marine Ecology Progress Series.
"The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don't yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems," Price added.
Researchers say the trends indicate a global decline in coral recruitment has occurred since 1974. According to the study, persistent reduction in the densities of recruits in equatorial latitudes, coupled with increased densities in sub-tropical latitudes, suggests that coral recruitment may be shifting pole ward.