Extremely large portions of the northern Great Barrier Reef are currently experiencing
“the worst, mass bleaching event in its history”
according to a statement released by the Australian Research Council.
By taking aerial surveys of more than 500 coral reefs ranging from Cairns to Papua New Guinea, the research team revealed that the previously most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing the worst, mass bleaching event in its history. The majority of reefs documented ranked in the most severe bleaching category.
“This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” – Prof. Terry Hughes of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce
“Almost without exception, every reef we flew across showed consistently high levels of bleaching, from the reef slope right up onto the top of the reef. We flew for 4000km in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching. The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998.”
Even worse is that the team has still yet to find where the bleaching stops in the south. They will be conducting more research to find out at what point to the south the bleaching event begins to dissipate.
When stresses such as warmer water temperature are put on coral, bleaching occurs. Responding to the stress, the coral expel the algae that covers them and provide their color. This in turn leads to the bleached white look. If the stress continues, the bleaching can be fatal to the coral. Currently research estimates there’s a 50% chance of survival for bleached coral if conditions improve.
“Residents we spoke to in Cape York were shocked by what they are seeing, telling us that they had never experienced anything like this before.” – James Kerry, Project Manager of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce
Currently researchers are estimating the coral could be dead within months and that the entire scale of the event still cannot fully be grasped until further research is done.
“We will continue to conduct underwater surveys along the Great Barrier Reef in the coming months as the full impact of this mass bleaching event unfolds.”
The only positive to all this news is that the bleaching is only prevalent in northern reefs. This means that reefs to the south are still very hospitable and thriving. Rather than watch the northern Barrier Reef die, maybe we should move it?
Maybe Australia should follow in Dubai’s footsteps. Eight years ago a coral reef was transported away from a construction zone in order to preserve it’s safety and increase tourism. Moving more than 1,000 boulders it cost about $10 million to complete. This relocation in Dubai preserved the reef which actually saw a growth of 20% over the following five years.
Australia could move parts of the northern Barrier Reef to more habitable waters in the south; potentially saving a major section of it. This in turn could bring in more tourism and keep the incredible reef alive as we combat our impact on climate change, the only way to truly help the reef recover unless we develop a means of lowering water temperatures in desired locations.
A World Heritage Site, the Barrier Reef covers 134,364 square miles, making it larger than the U.K., Switzerland and the Netherlands combined. Containing 1,500 types of fish, 4,000 mollusk species 400 types of coral/hosts and other marine life, the Barrier Reef is like a country…no, a world in it’s own. It’s something to be cherished and preserved. We should take every effort to save and keep it alive. Hopefully a private company will come in to the rescue, even if it’s for capitalistic purposes, as they did in Dubai.