TAMPA (WFLA) – Just a few decades from now most tropical coral reefs are likely to vanish from our planet. That is unless the oceans stop warming or scientists figure out how to slow their demise.

Since 1950, half of all coral cover worldwide has disappeared. That’s mostly due to warming waters which cause coral to stress, turn white (called bleaching) and often die.

But coral are vital for the health of the planet and humans, too. Coral supports 25% of marine creatures, helps protect the coast against pounding surf and is an economic engine for Florida’s economy.

Since the 1800s, global sea-surface temperatures have warmed around 2 degrees Fahrenheit due to human-caused climate change.

With heat-trapping greenhouse emissions still growing and 90% of excess heat being stored in the ocean, waters will continue to warm for decades.

This same effect has taken its toll on Florida’s reefs. In South Florida, NOAA says coral cover has declined to just 2%, down from 30 to 40% in the 1970s due to bleaching , nutrient pollution and disease.

This has compelled scientists to step in around the state and world, to try to come up with techniques to save these vital ecosystems. One of those scientists is Allyson DeMerlis’ – a PHD candidate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric science. Her work shows promise.

DeMerlis’ explained the process to News Channel 8 Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli. For her experiment, she put a test group of staghorn coral through an ‘interval training’ of sorts, heating coral in a tank, twice a day up to 88 degrees, for 3 months.

The results were encouraging. The coral which was exposed to the heat lasted twice as long as the control group which was simply exposed to static, temperature water over that same period of time.

DeMerlis’ says the next phase is to outplant these resilient coral into the ocean to see if they maintain their newly acquired tolerance. DeMerlis’ admits it is an uphill battle saying that restoring Florida and the world’s coral reefs will take a multifaceted approach.