Life and death following the Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching…

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Staghorn corals killed by coral bleaching on Bourke Reef, on the Northern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Greg Torda, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies


Scientists have recently finished surveying portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef which recently experienced the largest recorded die-off of corals. In the northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef, there was an average mortality of 67% of all shallow-water corals over the past 9 months due to high temperature-induced bleaching. Where once lush and colorful expanses of corals and other reef-inhabiting creatures could be seen, now only large expanses of algal mats smother the substrate. However, further south, scientists were surprised to find that the death toll was much lower.

“Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef. This region escaped with minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly affected,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University, who undertook extensive aerial surveys at the height of the bleaching.

Source

While the northern regions suffered, only a 6% and 1% mortality of corals was observed in the central and southern regions, respectively.

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The map, detailing coral loss on Great Barrier Reef, shows how mortality varies enormously from north to south. Credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Tourism along the Great Barrier Reef plays a major role in the culture and economy of Australia’s eastern coast. Over 70,000 people work in the tourism sector of the Great Barrier Reef and it generates upwards of $5 billion dollars each year. Given the patchy distribution of the worst damage along the reef, tourism can still thrive in the areas that weren’t hit as hard.

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Healthy coral in the Capricorn Group of Islands, Southern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Tory Chase, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Researchers now expect that the northern, most devastated region could take at least 10-15 years to regain lost corals, if yet another future bleaching event doesn’t end up slowing the recovery.

One thought on “Life and death following the Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching…

  1. Pingback: High-resolution predictions of annual coral bleaching under climate change… | Blue Heart of the Planet

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