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Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching

Things are not looking good for the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

The Inertia

According to aerial surveys conducted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Great Barrier Reef is currently undergoing yet another mass bleaching event. This is the seventh time it’s happened, and the fifth time in the last eight years.

The Great Barrier Reef is tremendously important. At almost 133,000 square miles, it’s the world’s largest coral reef. It is home to nearly 2,000 different kinds of fish and a little over 400 different species of corals. It’s not just ecologically important, but also a driver of tourism that contributes billions of dollars to Australia’s tourism sector every year.

As one probably expects, the cause for the mass bleaching event is our changing climate. “Climate change is the biggest risk not just to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia but also to coral reefs around the world,” said Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in a statement. “We know that we need to give our beautiful reef the best chance of survival for the planet and animals that call it home, for the 64,000 people whose livelihoods depend on reef tourism.”

The survey consisted of 300 reefs in varying depths — inshore, mid-shelf and offshore reefs — and found that most of them were significantly bleached. Bleaching, while a relatively normal occurrence in relatively small time windows and at relatively small areas of the reef, is when coral ejects that algae that lives within it. If the water is too warm for too long over a big enough area, a mass bleaching event occurs and is a harbinger of a dire future.

“It’s devastating,” said AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager Dr. Lissa Schindler. “This is a huge wake-up call for Australia and the global community that we need to do much more to address climate change, which is driving the marine heatwaves that lead to coral bleaching.”

In the wake of the study, the Australian government has pledged one billion Australian dollars — $660 million USD — over the next decade to “support new climate adaptation technology, investment in water quality programs, and protection for key reef species.”


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