Amazing and alarming extent of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching

A group of scientists has announced that 93 percent of the largest coral reef systems in the world have suffered damage. Comprehensive underwater and aerial surveys have shown that damage varies dramatically along the length 2 ,300km (1 ,400mile) of Reef. The damage in the Northern sector is much worse. Scientists are discovering widespread bleaching on Australia’s West Coast due to rising temperatures. Mass Coral bleaching is caused by increased sea temperature due to global warming. Corals expel tiny photosynthetic alga, also known as zooxanthellae. These colourful algae become dissolved, causing corals to turn transparent (semitransparent), and then ‘bleach’. Image: James Cook University. Unprecedented scale of coral bleaching. Professor Terry Hughes of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce said that he has never witnessed anything similar to this level of bleaching. It’s almost like 10 hurricanes have swept in to the Great Barrier Reef. The southernmost reefs are experiencing minor to moderate bleaching, and will soon rebound.” We have flown in helicopters and light aircrafts over individual coral reefs to determine the severity and extent of bleaching across the entire 2 km of Great Barrier Reef. Only 7% (68 corals (out of all those we checked) survived bleaching.” Teams of scientists divers continue to monitor the effects of bleaching on the Reef’s northern half, confirming the accuracy of aerial surveys. You can see the Great Barrier Reef from space. It is also one of the largest structures made entirely by living organisms. It is made up of trillions of tiny organisms called coral polyps. (Image: umn.edu/earthducation) Extreme bleaching in Northern Sector of Reef Prof. Andrew Baird from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who has been at sea for the last seventeen days, said: “The bleaching is extreme in the 1000km region north of Port Douglas all the way up to the northern Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. This is the remotest part of the Reef. It has been protected from all human pressures, but climate change. “Northern Port Douglas we are already monitoring an average of 50% death of bleached corals. 90%. is the likely final death rate for some coral reefs. The final death toll from bleaching can be as high as 90% on some reefs. Researchers report that the bleaching in southern reefs has been less severe than those further south, due to sea temperatures being closer to normal levels over recent months. Professor Hughes stated that the severity of the bleaching occurring in the Great Barrier Reef’s central sector was less severe than the intensity of two previous mass bleaching events in 1998. “Fortunately, most corals in this area are moderately bleached so we anticipate that they will recover their natural colour.” The Coral Centre of Excellence reports that the Northern Sector of Great Barrier Reef has experienced the worst bleaching. The North has 81% and the South has 1%. After analyzing the data and gathering all of it, researchers discovered that there are three distinct areas where the massive bleaching events occurred in 1998, and *. Professor Hughes explained that in each instance, the worst bleaching occurred where warm water sat for the longest time. Professor Hughes said: “This year, the Great Barrier Reef’s southern third was blessedly cooled by cloudy weather from ex-cyclone Winston. Winston passed through Fiji, and brought rain to the region. “The 2016 footprint could be much worse.” The economic importance of Reef Tourism According to Australia’s Government, Reef Tourism is responsible for approximately AUD$5 Billion in annual revenue and provides around 72,000 jobs. According to the Government, global warming is the greatest threat to Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem and those whose lives depend upon it. The coral reefs provide habitat for many species of marine life. Scientists from Australia claim that they haven’t seen any decrease in the number of fish and other marine life around areas of Great Barrier Reef. They are however concerned. Image: Wikipedia. Daniel Gschwind is the Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Tourism Industry Council. He stated that while many reefs are in good condition, it’s not possible to ignore coral bleaching. However, we cannot expect a quick recovery. Scientists from Australia’s national task force are documenting bleaching on Australia’s coast and atolls. Verena Schoepf, University of Western Australia said that the coast area north of Broome is subject to huge tides. We thought corals living there were tough “super corals” because they are able to withstand large temperature swings. We were shocked to find that some of these corals are turning to 80% snow white. Even tougher species can be affected.” Reef-building corals share a symbiotic relationship (above), with zooxanthellae, a microscopic and unicellular alga that lives in the coral’s cells. When corals expel zooxanthellae, it is called Coral Bleaching. (Image:coralreef.noaa.gov) About coral bleaching Coral bleaching on a large scale (Mass Coral Bleaching) happens when rising sea temperatures due to global warming cause corals to expel zooxanthellae, tiny photosynthetic algae that live in their tissues. Corals become transparent and white due to the loss of zooxanthellae which is a very vibrant algae. If sea temperatures rise to normal, moderately bleached corals may recover. Otherwise the coral could die. Video: Great Barrier Reef bleaching A rise in sea temperature due to climate change, and El Nino weather patterns has led to the greatest coral bleaching ever recorded. Jamie Smyth, a Financial Times reporter, and John Veron (marine scientist) visit Orpheus Island in order to assess the extent of the damage.

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