Published: Sun, March 12, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching gets worse due to global warming

Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching gets worse due to global warming

The Great Barrier Reef bleaching was the most widely publicized aspect of a global coral bleaching event that spread to every ocean basin for three years and counting.

The Great Barrier Reef has now been hit by four mass bleaching events: 1998, 2002, 2016, and 2017.

Marine Park Authority experts and scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies will take to the sky again next week to resurvey 1150 reefs along the entire Great Barrier Reef. "In many areas, people are causing declines in coral reefs because of pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction", he said.

It follows pictures of newly bleached coral taken in recent weeks at Moore Reef, near Cairns, by the reef scientist Tyrone Ridgway, as well as by divers further south near Palm Island.

"Fortunately the fully bleached coral is very patchy, we aren't seeing big swathes of it like we did a year ago and so far it doesn't look anywhere near as bad".

This is the first time we've had back-to-back bleaching. The corals don't have time to recover.

"As we saw previous year bleaching and mortality can be highly variable across the 344,000 square kilometre Marine Park - an area bigger than Italy", he said. "The corals aren't getting the chance to bounce back from last year's bleaching event" he said.

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"This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover". This is the result of 12 months of above average sea temperatures across the Reef. Now, everywhere you look is white.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour. "If this is the new normal, we're in trouble". The death rate of coral will be determined in the next six months.

Dr Cantin said the "extent and severity" of this year's bleaching would not be known for another month.

"We have on our doorstep the clearest signal that climate change is happening, and that governments aren't moving fast enough to stop it".

World Wildlife Fund Australia called on the federal government to accelerate solar and wind energy use by setting a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2035.

"It's vital the world acts to implement the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions", said Marine Park Authority Director of Reef Recovery David Wachenfel in the press release. "Tackling climate change is the only real solution here, and that starts by stopping public funding for climate-killing coal projects", Alix Foster Vander Elst said.

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