Published: Sun, March 12, 2017
Science | By Guadalupe Butler

Great Barrier Reef witnessing second year of mass bleaching

Great Barrier Reef witnessing second year of mass bleaching

He said not all bleached coral would die, and past year revealed bleaching and mortality could be highly variable across the vast marine park, a World Heritage Site which covers an area larger than Italy.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae called "zooxanthellae" that live inside and nourish them.

This is the first time we've had back-to-back bleaching. "In these photos almost 100 percent of the corals are bleaching, and who knows how many will recover".

"I've been photographing this area of the reef for several years now and what we're seeing is unprecedented", Brett Monroe Garner, a marine biologist working with Greenpeace, said. About a fifth of the corals died during the event.

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. Water temperatures have now been above average for at least 12 months in north Queensland waters. In contrast, more remote northern areas of the reef were impacted a year ago.

"Just a few months ago, these corals were full of colour and life".

The bleaching is part of a global event affecting the world's coral reefs over the past two years.

"There is no doubt that if we do not get our act together globally we will have serious damage to the barrier reef, we could see the barrier reef lose a huge amount of biodiversity, when you look at the Cayman islands they have about 30 species of coral and we have 300".

Bleaching happens when warm waters cause the coral to oust algae living in their tissues. "If this is the new normal, we're in trouble".

An aerial survey showed severe bleaching in the middle of the reef, although it may not have had time to recover fully from previous bleaching. If oceans warm 2.7°F, it will essentially be a death sentence for most coral. Alix Foster Vander Elst, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said that so far this is the clearest signal of the existence of climate change, and the government itself is not moving fast enough to stop it.

The Australian and Queensland governments, which are obliged to show how they are jointly managing the reef's long-term conservation, acknowledge climate change is its main threat.

Australian officials are urging governments around the world to stand by the Paris Agreement and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect the reef. "Tackling climate change is the only real solution here and that starts by stopping public funding for climate-killing coal projects".

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