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The Great Barrier Reef has faced its fifth occurrence of mass coral bleaching in the span of eight years, as verified by the marine park authority.
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The Great Barrier Reef has faced its fifth occurrence of mass coral bleaching in the span of eight years, as verified by the marine park authority.

The government agency for the Great Barrier Reef has confirmed that the marine park is currently experiencing its fifth mass coral bleaching event in just eight years, caused by global warming.

The officials, along with researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, have conducted aerial surveys on 300 reefs covering over two-thirds of the reef, with additional surveys planned.

According to updates from the authority, these surveys have verified that a significant event of coral bleaching, also known as mass bleaching, is currently occurring in the Great Barrier Reef region.

Images showing the bleaching and death of coral off Heron Island from 2021 through to February.View image in fullscreen

Scientists and researchers expressed their devastation to Guardian Australia regarding the bleaching, specifically in the southern portion of the reef where centuries-old corals were significantly affected.

According to Dr. Roger Beeden, the head scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, there is currently a widespread occurrence of coral bleaching, also known as mass bleaching, in the surveyed reefs.

He stated that the bleaching was caused by both global warming and an El Niño weather pattern. He mentioned that ongoing surveys were being conducted in the water to determine the extent of the bleaching, and noted that the reef had demonstrated resilience in the past.

Coral bleaching off Heron Island, Queensland.View image in fullscreen

The Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral system on Earth, spans approximately 2,300km and encompasses an area larger than Italy. It is composed of roughly 3,000 distinct reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced widespread bleaching events in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022, and currently in 2024.

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The Earth’s oceans have experienced record-high temperatures for nearly a year, according to the US government’s Coral Reef Watch program. This program predicts a fourth global coral bleaching event on the horizon, with coral reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and possibly the Indian Ocean all being affected.

Bleaching is affecting the world’s furthest south coral reef located at Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales in Australia.

In July, the World Heritage committee will evaluate whether to include the reef on a list of threatened sites, due to concerns regarding the effects of climate change, pollution, and sediment runoff into the reef’s water.

Since the 1990s, researchers have been cautioning that as global warming intensifies, coral reefs will be one of the first ecosystems to experience impacts.

When ocean temperatures rise above normal, corals expel the algae that reside within them and provide them with essential nutrients and vibrant colors.

When temperatures decrease, corals have the ability to survive but experts suggest they are often more vulnerable to illnesses and face difficulty with reproduction. In severe instances of heat strain, corals may not survive.

According to Dr. Neal Cantin, a senior research scientist at Aims, the next step is to merge data from aerial observations with surveys taken in the water to evaluate the extent of coral bleaching in the deeper areas of the Marine Park, taking into account the various regions.

Coral Bleaching at Lizard Island picture on 24 February.

Display the image in full screen mode.

The latest information from Coral Reef Watch shows that the level of heat stress on corals in the southern and central parts of the reef has reached unprecedented levels, while the northern areas are experiencing the second highest levels.

Diana Kleine, who is the project manager for Coral Watch at the University of Queensland, has recently been stationed at Heron Island in the southern part of the reef near Gladstone.

She expressed that it was earth-shattering and unimaginable. The temperature of the water was much higher than usual. While the Heron has been able to avoid bleaching in the past, this year it was heavily impacted.

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Coral Watch has recorded large 4-meter-wide boulder corals that require several centuries to develop and have turned a bleached white color.

Lyle Vail, one of the co-directors at the Lizard Island Research Station of the Australian Museum located in the northern part of the reef, reported that coral began displaying signs of heat stress at the beginning of February.

He described the situation as “devastating,” stating that the majority of heat-sensitive corals in the shallow waters have undergone bleaching. He also mentioned that a small portion of corals had perished.

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, stated that climate change is the primary danger to coral reefs globally. This also applies to the Great Barrier Reef. It is crucial that we take all necessary actions to safeguard this incredible location for future generations.

“We are aware that this news may be a cause for concern among Australians, particularly those living in communities and running businesses along the Reef. The well-being of the reef is crucial for the 64,000 individuals who are dependent on it for employment, as well as the diverse flora and fauna that inhabit the reef ecosystem.”

She indicated the government’s mandated goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a revised target for 2030, and a $1.2 billion investment to assist the reef in adapting to climate change and enhancing water quality.

WWF-Australia’s Director of Oceans, Richard Leck, expressed worry for the southern sections of the reef that have not experienced severe bleaching since 2016.

He stated that if there is no substantial decrease in temperatures over the next few weeks, there is a high likelihood of significant damage to coral.

“Over the course of eight years, there have been five instances of mass bleaching, indicating the significant impact of climate change on the reef.”

He stated that the government required to significantly increase its efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while also urging Queensland to take greater measures in reducing deforestation rates.

Lissa Schindler, a campaigner for the reefs at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, stated that this is a significant reminder for both Australia and the world that urgent action is needed to tackle climate change. It’s the root cause of the marine heatwaves that result in the bleaching of corals.

“The reduction goal set by Australia to decrease carbon emissions by 43% by 2030 is in alignment with the 2C warming trajectory, resulting in the potential extinction of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.”

Source: theguardian.com