The Great Barrier Reef’s managers have confirmed in a report to CNN in Australia that one of the world’s seven natural wonders is currently suffering its sixth mass bleaching due to heat stress triggered by global climate change.
The update has come as a 10-day monitoring mission by UNESCO scientists was underway for consideration of putting the Great Barrier Reef among “in danger” list.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have further stated that the aerial surveys of around 750 reefs in the entire area show widespread bleaching, with the most severe actions in its northern and central areas.
AIMS coral biologist Neal Cantin said that more than half of the living coral cover that can be seen from the air is “severely bleached completely white” leading them to produce “fluorescent pigments in an attempt to protect their tissue from heat and from the intense sun during these marine heatwaves.”
Coral bleaching events occur when the water temperatures become much warmer than normal. However, the bleaching has happened despite La Niña, which is characterized by cooler-than-normal temperatures across the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
This is the fourth mass bleaching event in six years and the first since 2020, with about one quarter of the reef reflecting signs of severe bleaching. The earliest bleaching event was reported in 1998 and then in 2022 after which back-to-back bleaching events occurred from 2016 and 2017.
David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the GBRMPA, said that if the temperature of water decreases, bleached corals have a chance to recover from the heat stress.
Adding to Wachenfeld was Jodie Rummer, Associate Professor of Marine Biology at Townsville’s James Cook University who said “even the most robust corals require nearly a decade to recover.”
The UNESCO’s survey has also shown aerial surveys with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft photo-imaging the worst of the bleaching near Townsville.
Earlier in 2022, the Australian government had pledged one billion Australian dollars ($700 million) over a span of 10 years for supporting new climate adaptation technology, investment in water quality programs, and protection for key reef species.
While the extra funding was welcomed, the government has been ridiculed by global climate experts for not doing enough to transition Australia away from fossil fuels.
The Climate Action Tracker gives the country a “highly insufficient rating” for its action on climate change.
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