Widespread damage: Great Barrier Reef suffers mass coral bleaching event

James Marshall
March 26, 2020

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its third mass coral bleaching event in five years, according to leading scientists. The Australian agency detected "very widespread bleaching", referring to the phenomenon when stressors cause coral to expel algae, its main food source, and turn white, putting them at risk of death.

That conditions exacerbated a years-long drought in much of eastern Australia, contributing to the summer's devastating wildfires that burnt out an area nearly the size of England.

This third major bleaching event follows the worst outbreak of mass bleaching on record, which in 2016 and 2017 killed some 50 percent of the shallow water corals in the world's largest reef system.

A outcome of climate change and rising ocean temperatures, coral bleaching occurs when water is too warm, causing corals to expel algae living in their tissue, which turns them white.

"We could see that some of those corals were big enough that they must have survived the 2017 bleaching and now they re-bleached", he said.

GBRMPA is responsible for the care and protection of the reef which is around 344,000 sq.km in size and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The usually colorful corals at risk to become bleached if exposed to higher temperatures than normal.

Some previously untouched areas had now suffered "moderate or severe bleaching", said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is conducting an aerial survey of the giant organism.

The authority said heat accumulation, particularly in February, led to this bleaching event. "Climate change remains the single greatest challenge to the reef", said the agency.

"Coal-driven climate change is threatening our lovely reef, and the many communities and tourism workers who depend on a healthy reef for their livelihoods which are already at risk from the coronavirus outbreak", said Kate Smolski, acting program director of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

It is not only the bleaching, which has affected the Great Barrier Reef.

The government adopted the program, which includes improving water quality among a host of other measures, to prevent the Great Barrier Reef from being put on the World Heritage endangered list.

"The forecasts. indicate that we can expect ongoing levels of thermal stress for at least the next two weeks and maybe three or four weeks", Wachenfeld said in a weekly update on the reef's health.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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