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Mass Coral Bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Posted on May, 2, 2016
Contributed to WCHV by WCHV
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reefThe recent news from Australia will once again bring up the question of whether the Great Barrier Reef will soon be put on the UNESCO’s “in Danger” list. It has recently been reported by the environmentalists and experts from James Cook University, Australia that the mass coral bleaching event smashing the Great Barrier Reef has severely affected more than half its length and caused patches of bleaching in most areas.

The scientists have been conducting an extensive aerial survey of the damage and they now seem to have a good idea of the extent of the damage. They believe that climate change and a strong El Niño have caused hundreds of kilometers of the reef to bleach, as the higher water temperatures stress the coral, and they expel their symbiotic algae. If the bleaching is bad enough, or the temperatures remain high for long enough, the corals die, putting the future of reefs at risk. The mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is part of what the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has called the third global bleaching event. The first occurred in 1998. However, the current damage is three to four times worse than in 1998 or the second great bleaching in 2002.

The scientists and experts from James Cook University are currently examining to see what the total extent of bleaching is, and how far south and north the bleaching expand. The next step will be to examine how much of that bleached coral has died. If the corals are severely bleached, then a lot will die. However, some might regain their color over the next couple of months and there won’t be much mortality, as experts explained.

Last year, the Great Barrier Reef narrowly escaped being listed as “in danger” by UNESCO, even though environmental groups said it clearly met the criteria. UNESCO is not scheduled to examine the reef this year but considering the extent of bleaching it is possible that they may decide to look at the reef again soon.

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