Senior Editor
It's pretty, isn't it? Not for long. Photo: iStock

It’s pretty, isn’t it? Not for long. Photo: iStock


The Inertia

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly obvious that we’re killing the planet. We kill it with our comforts: driving, eating, wearing clothes… basically anything we do now kills something or other. The Great Barrier Reef is one of those somethings, along with a million other reefs that are dying as our ocean warms far too quickly.

For the last consecutive three years, the Great Barrier Reef has been hammered by record bleaching. Now, according to The Huffington Post, some 65% of the coral of the northern reef is dead, and the coming months are going to be even worse.

Last year, The Weather Network reported that ocean scientists revealed just how bad the damage was.

“Flying up and down the northeastern coastline of Australia, scientists with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have been documenting the conditions on the Great Barrier Reef, and have now returned with the dire news,” said Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre, in a press release. “Over 900 coral reefs were surveyed, with the worst of the bleaching located in the northern region. Between 60 and 100% of coral are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef.”

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At the time, although researchers found the northern reef to be ravaged by climate change, the southern reefs had “minor to moderate bleaching and [would] soon recover.”

The water around the northern part of the reef is already a few degrees warmer on average than other parts, so it was hit hard. Now, though, it looks very likely that the southern part of the reef is going to get hammered by its rapidly warming environment. If all goes as predicted, that will be two years in a row of some of the worst coral bleaching events the GBR has experienced. That’s really, really bad news.

“Coral can rebound in good times — though it takes as long as a decade — but scientists say that’s not likely to happen soon, if ever,” writes Mary Papenfuss in HuffPo. The reef is already warmer than it was at this time last year and there’s a  strong possibility that March and April will set new temperature highs ― and a new record for coral bleaching. Marine park authority workers are already seeing significant bleaching this season.”

Studies of the GBR over the last couple of years are pretty damn scary. Researchers are worried, and rightfully so. Marine park authority officials issued an alert to the Australian government with the news that the reef is doing worse than it was at the same time last year.

“It’s alarming that the reef is bleaching so soon again, giving no time for recovery from the huge losses of corals in the northern third of the Reef in 2016,” said Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, to the Sydney Morning Herald.

All may not be lost, though. Despite the fact that the President of the United States and the new head of the Environmental Protection agency are determined to continue ruining the environment, most of the rest of the world is listening to actual science. The fact is that the planet is warming quicker than it naturally would, and we’re causing it. But according to a study in Nature (not #fakenews), there’s still time.

Researchers looked at significant bleaching events over the last two decades and found that the driving force behind major reef die-offs wasn’t to do so much with pollution as it was to do with warming. Although parts of the Great Barrier Reef have been protected from things like urban runoff and overfishing (it’s considered to be one of the most well-managed reef systems on earth), Nature‘s study shows that none of that matters if we don’t do something to dramatically slash our global carbon emissions.

“The distinctive geographic footprints of recurrent bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002 and 2016 were determined by the spatial pattern of sea temperatures in each year,” wrote the authors of the study. “Water quality and fishing pressure had minimal effect on the unprecedented bleaching in 2016, suggesting that local protection of reefs affords little or no resistance to extreme heat. Similarly, past exposure to bleaching in 1998 and 2002 did not lessen the severity of bleaching in 2016. Consequently, immediate global action to curb future warming is essential to secure a future for coral reefs.”

It’s not just the reef that will be affected, either. Thousands of different species call it home, and according to IFL.com, “the Great Barrier Reef is thought to support about 70,000 jobs and bring in an astonishing $7 billion of tourist revenue.”

The study, though, found that it isn’t too late. If warming rates can be returned to normal, the reef would likely be able to adapt. But, as we all know, that takes a tremendous amount of change, and most of it needs to come from places like the White House.



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