Mass coral bleaching hits Great Barrier Reef for 2nd consecutive year

17 March, 2017, 01:05 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by mass bleaching for the second year in a row

The coral researchers are from James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

"As we saw a year ago bleaching and mortality can be highly variable across the 344,000 square kilometer (133,000 square mile) Marine Park - an area bigger than Italy", he said.

'Since the 1980s, rising sea surface temperatures owing to global warming have triggered unprecedented mass bleaching of corals, including three pan-tropical events in 1998, 2010 and 2015/16'. "The severity of the 2016 bleaching was off the chart". This time previous year, for example, the surprising discovery of a new, large coral reef in the murky waters of the Amazon was immediately tempered with the realisation that it's under threat.

Coral bleaching is the direct result of global warming.

"Marine reserves are likely critical to increasing the recovery potential of bleached reefs but are not sufficient alone to prevent reefs from bleaching in a high Carbon dioxide world, only reducing global Carbon dioxide emissions will give us a chance of having healthy reefs in the future".

Upon such progress do coral reefs depend, Hughes says. The scientists found that the reefs that were highly bleached during the first two events, in 1998 and 2002, did not experience less severe bleaching a year ago.

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Hughes and his coauthors found that even corals in pristine, protected water were likely to be suffering from heat stress, meaning the only thing left to do to protect corals is, you know, address climate change.

"Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them". Even the more resilient corals, though, are in danger from bleaching events. In each of the three events since 1998, the pattern of bleaching matches exactly where the warmest water was each year. The barrier reefs are formed by the continued accumulation of tiny, marine organisms called corals layer over layer for a long time and creating a foundation that mainly consists of calcium carbonate.

Reducing pollution and curbing overfishing won't prevent the severe bleaching that is killing coral at catastrophic rates, according to a study of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 'In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs - literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead'. In the absence of such measures, the possibility of the great barrier reef getting its former glory back, or at least a part of it is nearly impossible.

This means that the securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef - and corals around the world - "ultimately requires urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming", the paper concludes.

The study, now published in the journal Nature, investigates the determinants of recurrent major bleaching events, and why some corals are more prone to bleaching than others.

It was the third time in 18 years the World Heritage site, famous for its bewildering variety of marine life, has experienced mass bleaching.


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