Mass bleaching damages Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef

The damage was recorded by the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which carried out separate studies over the past two years.

In 2016, the bleaching was most severe in the northern third of the Reef, while after one year, the middle third has witnessed the most intense coral bleaching.

"It really was shocking to see the similar levels of severe bleaching this time in the central Great Barrier Reef that I saw previous year in the northern third of the reef", said Dr. James Kerry, part of the team at the Australian Research Council's center of excellence for coral reef studies.

The same scientists who undertook observations in 2016 recently completed an aerial survey of the reef covering more than 8,000 km (5,000 mi), examining 800 individual coral reefs.

Two severe coral bleaching events have damaged about two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef, scientists have revealed. The latest surveys by scientists from James Cook University show that 1,500 km (932 miles) of the reef have now been bleached.

"The central third this year, I would say, was as severe in terms of bleaching as what we saw as the northern third last year", he said.

The researchers also said a section of the reef untouched by the bleaching was damaged by Tropical Cyclone Debbie last month. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who conducted the aerial surveys of the reef.

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The warming waters causing the bleaching probably have to do with global warming. Last year, the scientists determined that almost two-thirds of the affected coral in the northern-most 700-km section of the Great Barrier Reef were lost during the six-month period following the peak March bleaching.

"Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing", he added. It's only the third recorded instance of global coral bleaching, with the other two coming in 1998 and 2010, but it's easily the longest running. "And the reason it's happening is global warming".

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said survey results would be used to "refine a support strategy" to help improve the health of the ecosystem.

The concern, the researchers say, is that the coral that was damaged during the mass bleaching in 2016 has no chance of recovery.

Coral bleaching takes place due to the abnormal environmental conditions such as heightened sea temperatures.

Repeated damage could prompt UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to reconsider a 2015 decision not to put the Great Barrier Reef on its "in danger" list. Should the bleaching continue until the whole reef is dead, we stand to lose more that just a species or several even.

Coral mass bleaching happens when warmer-than-usual waters cause the coral to expel living algae, changing its color to white. "My expectation is that has happened, based on what I saw from the air and what I saw previous year".

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