April 24, 2017

'Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by mass coral bleaching'

11 April 2017, 09:12 | Candice Butler

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Professor Terry Hughes of James Cook University of Queensland, Australia, is the director of the Arc Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, he's been studying the bleaching events and released his findings this week.

The most recent surveys have indicated that we have lost two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef to bleaching after a record-breaking Australian summer.

The last thing the world needs now is more bad news, but unfortunately we can't ignore the fact that, after yet another mass bleaching event, scientists are now admitting Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in a "terminal stage".

The map below shows just how damaging the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is compared to 2016.

"In the last 20 years or so, the percent of the bottom of the ocean that is covered by coral on the Great Barrier Reef has decreased by about 50 percent".

The mass bleaching, coupled with the destructive Tropical Cyclone Debbie in March, has struck a previously undamaged section of the reef.

"Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts", explains Hughes.

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The warming waters causing the bleaching probably have to do with global warming.

Coral bleaching is caused by rising water temperatures resulting from two natural warm currents. As a result, the largest ever coral die-off on the Great Barrier Reef was recorded, with nearly two-thirds of corals dying in the 700 kilometers north of Port Douglas in far north Queensland. "If you're talking more long-term, we've been seeing for at least 50 years a global trend of increasing global temperatures". "The Australian government has launched an unprecedented effort to invest more than A$2 billion ($1.5 billion)... in a Reef 2050 plan, which we're 18 months into", said Josh Frydenberg, Australia's Minister for the Environment and Energy.

Australia's tourism industry is highly dependent on the Great Barrier Reef, which generates annual income of about $5 billion and employs almost 70,000 people, according to ARC.

Bleaching occurs when corals expel tiny algae called 'zooxanthellae, ' which causes them to turn white, or bleach, usually in response to environmental conditions. But when the temperature of the water is too high, or if the water is polluted, the corals become stressed, causing them to discharge their algae.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system. Hughes was part of the survey team in the last two years. The major significance of the this years bleaching is that it occurred back-to-back with last years event which allows no chance for recovery.

Speaking to The Guardian, Mr Hughes said there is concern over the frequency of bleaching of the reef when it takes around 10 years for some of the coral to recover from these events.

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