Great Barrier Reef suffers mass coral bleaching event

Katie Ramirez
March 27, 2020

Working with a staff member from the Australian government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Hughes has assessed bleaching levels on 682 reefs from a spotter plane flying at about 150m.

Scientists say they have detected widespread bleaching, including extensive patches of severe damage.

The authority said heat accumulation, particularly in February, led to this bleaching event.

Two-thirds of the reef was damaged by similar events in 2016 and 2017.

In August previous year, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's five-yearly report downgraded its reef outlook from "poor" to "very poor" noting widespread habitat loss and degradation affecting fish, turtles and seabirds.

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. Some parts of the southern reef that escaped the bleaching of 2016 and 2017 have experienced moderate or severe bleaching.

The world-renowned coral reef located at the Australia's northeastern coast. But not all bleached corals die: lightly or moderately bleached corals can recover.

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The researchers expect this year's event to drive a high coral mortality rate on the severely bleached sections of the reef.

According to the agency, climate change remains the single greatest threat to the reef.

Wachenfeld added: "The reef is still a vibrant, dynamic system but overall, with every one of these successive events, the reef is more damaged than previously".

"In order to protect the Great Barrier Reef", she continued, "we need real solutions to address the climate crisis which is being driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas".

"Coal-driven climate change is threatening our handsome 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.

Authorities managing this major marine park revealed in 2019 that over a five-year period the reef's outlook had deteriorated from "poor" to "very poor", and warned that "now" was the time to take action if there was to be a reverse to the deadly effects.

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