Great Barrier Reef sees back-to-back years of mass bleaching

Posted April 13, 2017

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is approaching "terminal stage" after two years of consecutive mass coral bleaching, according to scientists who just got back from an aerial survey of the World Heritage site, as reported by Express UK.

"The central section of the reef is now displaying the same extent of bleaching as in the north", Dr. James Kerry, from James Cook University, said to CNN.

Because coral reefs can take up to 10 years or more to recover from bleaching, Steinberg said, "If it continues to happen every year, there is simply no time for recovery".

The back-to-back bleaching events, and the increased spread south of the damage now leaves only the southern third of the reef untouched, and while bleached coral doesn't necessarily mean the coral is dead, the dual impact of these losses decreases the reef's natural ability to fix itself. Hughes and his team conducted the aerial survey that confirmed both 2016 and 2017 bleaching events.

It is said that mass bleaching - a phenomenon caused by global warming-induced rises to sea surface temperatures - has occurred on the reef four times in recorded history. This year's mass bleaching occurred even in the absence of an El Niño event.

Nearly 800 coral reefs over an 8,000km area were assessed in the surveys by the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Almost 67 percent of the corals had died in the northern section of the reef, while 6 percent of the corals had perished in the southern section.

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This year's bleaching event may be exacerbated by tropical cyclone Debbie, which struck Queensland in late March.

"Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts", said Prof. "They have had no chance to recover from last year's events", added he.

"Unfortunately, the cyclone affected part of the Great Barrier Reef, which until now escaped large-scale bleaching", said the scientists. He added, "Going over those reefs this year, you can tell how low the coral cover was". The 1,400 mile (2,250 km) reef is the largest structure of its kind on Earth.

Hughes on Sunday tweeted his ongoing work at the Great Barrier Reef was "without a doubt the most confronting research project" he's ever done and called for the world to act to save the reef from climate change. Despite this, Hughes is adamant that global warming is the main culprit threatening the natural wonder's survival. The same approach has been used to examine the effects of three previous bleaching events in 1998, 2002, and 2016.

The scientists lamented that the Great Barrier Reef is now facing several events that have a negative impact on its health, especially those caused by climate change, and urged governments to cut pollutant emissions.