Great Barrier Reef reaches Breaking Point as Coral Bleaching Devastates

New aerial surveys have shown the extent of the damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and it’s not looking good. Over two third of the world’s largest living structure have now suffered from coral bleaching.

 Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching

Back-to-back events have caused unprecedented damage. Credit ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

The new aerial survey was completed last week of the Great Barrier Reef by scientists from Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. The survey results show two consecutive bleaching events have affected a 1,500km stretch, around two-thirds of the reef.

Coral bleaching is a product of rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change. Under warmer conditions the coral becomes stressed and expels the algae that gives them colour turning them completely white.

 Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching

Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reed have been affected by mass coral bleaching. Credit Ed Roberts/ARC

It can take decades for the coral to recover providing conditions return to normal. But during this recovery period if they suffer anymore stress the coral will die off.

New damage this year has been concentrated in the middle section of the reef. The major significance of the this years bleaching is that it occurred back-to-back with last years event which allows no chance for recovery.

Coast Monkey’s View

Climate change is often discussed in ways that can make it feel remote or unreal to many people.  A 0.5 metre rise in sea levels versus a 1 metre rise can seem almost wonkish, the fate of beachfront property largely irrelevant and talk of cities underwater can sound like bad science fiction. Add in that much of this is on timescales that go from decades to centuries and you have a recipe for widespread apathy.

But what we are witnessing here with the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is a climate change event on a different scale altogether. Before our very eyes and in the tangible space of years, we could see the death of the largest living organism on the planet.  Should the bleaching continue until the whole reef is dead, we stand to lose more that just a species or several even. We will lose a vital piece of our global ecosystem infrastructure that provides habitats and shelter for 1,500 marine species. This is climate change stepping up a gear and it’s something that should concern every single person on the planet.

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22