Professor Terry Hughes, a reef specialist, said that the Great Barrier Reef’s northern portion, which is the largest living thing on Earth was literally ‘fried’ by the worst coral bleaching ever recorded. He said that the Australian Federal Government failed to protect this reef which can be seen from space. It is located off Queensland, northeastern Australia. The Great Barrier Reef has a length of 2 ,300 km (1 ,429 mile) and contains thousands of coral reefs. There are also hundreds of islands that contain more than 600 types of soft and hard coral. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration states that coral bleaching can occur when water is too warm. Corals can become completely whitened if the water temperature is too high. Corals that have bleached are not considered dead. Although corals are able to survive bleaching events, they face more stress and may die.” (Image from uq.edu.au). The reef houses many species of starfish, sharks as well as turtles and other colourful fish. The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce convenor Prof. Hughes warns corals are not being able to recover. He says that global warming is causing major, potentially catastrophic bleaching events. This could lead to the reef needing a decade to recover. The Australian Institute of Marine Science reports that coral bleaching has continued in the north Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This is despite cooler temperatures providing much-needed relief to central and southern areas. Professor Hughes stated that “After months and months of El Nino conditions we had hoped for cloudy weather over the last few weeks to cool the Great Barrier Reef’s overheating along its length.” The northern sections haven’t cooled enough and are now experiencing coral bleaching. This can be caused by high ocean temperatures, pollution and runoff, as well as overexposure to sun and very low tides. (Image: adapted from oceanservice.noaa.gov) “These northern reefs are in the most remote, pristine area of the Great Barrier Reef and it’s a real tragedy to see them being affected like this. The rest of the reef has been safe since the heat from the summer is gone. The seas are expected to stay warm. Dr. Neal Cantin (a researcher scientist at Australia Institute of Marine Science), who has closely monitored weather patterns and climate over the GBR said that the temperatures of the Northern Great Barrier Reef will remain high. Prof. Hughes recently completed aerial surveys which revealed shocking levels of bleaching in this region of the Great Barrier Reef. Experts reported that only four of the 520 coral reefs between Papua New Guinea (and Cairns) were unaffected by the most recent aerial survey. Corals can be killed by bleaching. They are more vulnerable to disease if they have been bleached. Image: acfonline.org. Ninety-five per cent of the 516 coral reefs are at least 30% damaged. However, a large proportion have more 60% damage. This damage is significantly greater than that of the previous record-breaking bleaching in 2002,, when 18% reefs suffered more coral deaths than 30%. Sky News quoted Prof. Hughes as saying that “The north is fried.” This is an ongoing, slow-motion train wreck.” NASA Visible Earth says that the Great Barrier Reef is “Teaming with life, the region is home to a wide variety of marine animals including over 1500 species of fish, sea snakes, turtles, birds, mollusks, and dugongs.” (Image: visibleearth.nasa.gov) Despite concern by marine experts and environmentalists over water quality and mining-related port developments, UNESCO decided in 2015 not to list the Great Barrier Reef – a World Heritage listed reef – as ‘In Danger’. Professor Hughes stated that the Federal Government’s actions or inactions were “inexcusable.” He also said, “I hope the scientific findings of this report will persuade the commonwealth government not to list the Great Barrier Reef – a World Heritage listed reef – as ‘In Danger. According to him, bleaching has occurred in the remainder of the marine park. Marco Lambertini (Director General, World Wildlife Fund) stated that the Great Barrier Reef was one of the world’s most valuable ocean habitats. It is home to endangered species and is a great economic resource for Australia as well as a natural wonder for the entire planet. Turning the reef into a dumping ground is the wrong choice for the environment and makes no business sense, particularly to build ports that are unnecessary.” (Image: WWF) Regarding the causes of coral bleaching, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says: “The main cause of coral bleaching is heat stress resulting from high sea temperatures.Temperature increases of only one degree celsius for only four weeks can trigger bleaching events.” “If these temperatures persist for longer periods (eight weeks or more) corals begin to die. Reefs may be affected by high water temperatures at both regional and global levels.” Shani Tager from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, a Reef Campaigner said that Steven Miles, the Queensland environment minister, granted the environmental authority to Carmichael’s mega-coal mine. The reef is currently bleaching. The government can’t continue to approve new coal mines. Scientists disagree. Scientists are firm in their conviction. The right conditions are needed for reefs to recover from bleaching. We do know that they can, but we need to be careful. To ensure that our reef recovers, Abbot Point must not be dug up for the purpose of expanding the port. Greenpeace also warned that the Carmichael mine would release 121 millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. The mine would transport sixty million tonnes worth of coal through the Reef’s heart. Video: Great Barrier Reef’s worst coral bleaching Ever Experts claim that the Great Barrier Reef’s northern portion is experiencing the most severe coral bleaching in recorded history.
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