Published: Fri, March 27, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Great Barrier Reef hit by mass bleaching, climate council says

Great Barrier Reef hit by mass bleaching, climate council says

But it said more areas had been damaged than in previous events.

Its northern reaches suffered an unprecedented two successive years of severe bleaching in 2016 and 2017, prompting the government agency overseeing the reef to downgrade its long-term outlook to "very poor".

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.

Heat stress is causing the Great Barrier Reef to endure its third mass bleaching event in five years, scientists said Thursday, another sign underscoring the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.

However, they have also found a few healthy pockets amid the reef, which covers over 2,300km (1,400 miles).

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.

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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.

Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and one of the world's leading authorities on bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef, said: "We know enough now that [the bleaching] is more severe than in 1998 and 2002".

"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.

According to the agency, climate change remains the single greatest threat to the reef. "The reef had only just begun recovering from impacts in 2016 and 2017 and now we have a third event", chief scientist David Wachenfeld told the BBC.

The Great Barrier Reef is roughly estimated to give support to thousands of marine species, and it plays quite a significant role in the lives of some of the aboriginal groups and the natives of the Torres Strait Islands, located between the Australian mainland and New Guinea.

"Greenpeace is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take climate change seriously, get out of bed with the fossil fuel industry, and protect the Great Barrier Reef by urgently reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, which have been rising for over four years", said Smolski.

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