Climate change is killing reefs, says study
Bleaching has killed more than a third of the coral in the northern and central parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, though corals to the south have escaped with little damage, scientists said.
Researchers who conducted months of aerial and underwater surveys of the 2,300km reef off Australia’s east coast found that about 35 per cent of the coral in the northern and central sections of the reef are dead or dying, said Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland state. And some parts of the reef had lost more than half of the coral to bleaching.
The extent of the damage has serious implications, Hughes said. Older corals take longer to bounce back from bleaching, and likely won’t have a chance to recover before the next bleaching event occurs, he said. And dying coral affects much more than the coral itself - it affects other creatures that rely on coral for food and shelter.
“Is it surprising? Not anymore. Is it significant? Absolutely,” said Mark Eakin, the coral reef watch coordinator for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’re talking about losing 35 per cent of the population of coral in some of these reefs - that’s huge.”
The damage is part of a massive bleaching event that has been impacting reefs around the world for the past two years. Experts say the bleaching has been triggered by global warming and El Nino, a warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide. Hot water puts stress on coral, causing it to turn white and become vulnerable to disease.
This is the third mass bleaching event in 18 years to strike the Great Barrier Reef, and in each case, the areas that suffered the worst were the areas where the water was the hottest.
WHITE: The bleaching is damaging larges parts of the reef