Record coral die-off on Great Bar­rier Reef

The Sun (Malaysia) - - NEWS WITHOUT BORDERS -

SYD­NEY: A mass bleach­ing event on the Great Bar­rier Reef this year killed more corals than ever be­fore, sci­en­tists said yes­ter­day, sound­ing the alarm over the del­i­cate ecosys­tem.

The 2,300km long reef – the world’s big­gest – suf­fered its most se­vere bleach­ing in recorded his­tory, due to warm­ing sea tem­per­a­tures dur­ing March and April, with the north­ern third bear­ing the brunt.

Fol­low-up un­der­wa­ter sur­veys, back­ing ear­lier aerial stud­ies, have re­vealed a 700km stretch of reefs in the less-ac­ces­si­ble north lost two-thirds of shal­low-wa­ter corals in the past eight to nine months.

“Most of the losses in 2016 have oc­curred in the north­ern, most-pris­tine part of the Great Bar­rier Reef,” said Terry Hughes, head of the Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Coral Reef Stud­ies at James Cook Univer­sity.

“This re­gion es­caped with mi­nor dam­age in two ear­lier bleach­ing events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly af­fected.”

Fur­ther south over the vast cen­tral and south­ern re­gions, in­clud­ing ma­jor tourist ar­eas around Cairns and the Whit­sun­day Is­lands, there was a much lower toll.

Bleach­ing oc­curs when ab­nor­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, such as warmer sea tem­per­a­tures, cause corals to ex­pel tiny pho­to­syn­thetic al­gae, drain­ing them of colour.

Al­gae are vi­tal to the coral, which uses the or­ganic prod­ucts of pho­to­syn­the­sis to help it grow.

The loss of al­gae makes the host vul­ner­a­ble to dis­ease and means it will even­tu­ally die.

How­ever, coral can re­cover if the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture drops and the al­gae are able to re­colonise them.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists blame the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els for global warm­ing and re­peated calls yes­ter­day for Aus­tralia to aban­don coal min­ing to help pre­vent fur­ther bleach­ing dis­as­ters.

“This is the dev­as­tat­ing price we are pay­ing for the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment prop­ping up the coal in­dus­try,” said Green­peace Aus­tralia reef cam­paigner Shani Tager.

“A cred­i­ble plan to pro­tect the reef must ad­dress cli­mate change and start with a ban on new coal mines.” – AFP

REUTERSPIX

A un­dated handout photo re­ceived from the ARC Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Coral Reef Stud­ies yes­ter­day shows dead ta­ble corals killed by bleach­ing on Zenith Reef in the north­ern part of Great Bar­rier Reef.

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