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The Great Barrier Reef May Soon Lose Its Greatness

12 Apr 2017, 3:24 am

Two Mass Coral Bleaching Events Have Impacted 2/3 of the Reef

Bleach coral from The Mission Beach Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Bette Willis

Large areas of the Great Barrier Reef have undergone devastating coral bleaching this year, compounding on mass bleaching from 2016. These events have impacted 2/3 of the length of the entire reef ecosystem. “The combined impact of this back-to-back bleaching stretches for 1,500 km (900 miles), leaving only the southern third unscathed,” explained Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Illustrated coral bleaching events of 2016-17. Graphic by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures driven by global warming. This year, 2017, we are seeing mass bleaching, even without the assistance of El Niño conditions.”

This year Tropical Cyclone Debbie expanded upon the damage to the reef in March. The slow moving storm unfortunately damaged parts of the reef that had been spared from bleaching.


“It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”

“Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts,” asserted Prof. Hughes. “Without a doubt the most pressing of these is global warming. As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years.”


For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Alex O’Brien  – Cover image: Courtesy of Ed Roberts, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

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