Ecologists Steel For Even More Coral Bleaching On Great Barrier Reef

The devastating die-off appears to be heading toward yet another record.

Just when you thought the situation couldn’t get much worse for the Great Barrier Reef comes news that devastating coral bleaching will almost certainly increase significantly — again — in the coming months.

Record bleaching hit the 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2016, for the third year in a row, killing more than 65 percent of the coral of the northern reef. Climate change has impacted the ecosystem, as the colorful zooxanthellae are expelled from the coral during times of stress, according to numerous studies and the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Coral can rebound in good times — though it takes as long as a decade — but scientists say that’s not likely to happen soon, if ever. The reef is already warmer than it was at this time last year and there’s a strong strong possibility that March and April will set new temperature highs ― and a new record for coral bleaching. Marine park authority workers are already seeing significant bleaching this season.

Coral alert sites tracked by NOAA.
Coral alert sites tracked by NOAA.
Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Initial survey results showed high levels of bleaching among the most sensitive coral species,” Authority chairman Russell Reichelt told Newsport in Australia.

The authority has already issued an alert to the government of Australia warning that more of the reef is already showing more heat stress than the same period last year. Officials are receiving “increasing reports of coral bleaching and disease from many parts” of the reef, including some spots already far south of the worst sections of bleaching in 2016.

A study last year predicted that significant bleaching would continue at least until 2040. Lead researcher Gareth Williams of Britain’s Bangor University calls the projections “terrifying.”

“It’s alarming that the reef is bleaching so soon again, giving no time for recovery from the huge losses of corals in the northern third of the Reef in 2016,” Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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