Scientists have warned that there’s only one way to save the Great Barrier Reef from extinction: stopping global warming.
New analysis shows that coral bleaching events are caused by underwater heatwaves, prompting scientists to call for “immediate global action to curb future warming”.
Australia’s conservation plan does not address climate change, instead focusing on improving water quality, but the study found that had only a “minimal effect” on last year’s devastating bleaching.
Bleaching occurs when the sea warms rapidly, causing coral to expel the algae living in its tissues and turning it completely white.
It doesn’t necessarily kill the coral, but it subjects them to extra stress, lowering the chance of survival.
In 2016, the coral reef, which constitutes the world’s largest living organism, suffered the worst bleaching event in its 20 million year history.
It impacted over 90% of the reef and killed more than a third of its corals. Vast swathes of the reef are now totally devastated.
The author of the latest report, Terry Hughes, is now beginning an aerial survey to confirm the extent of a new mass bleaching event.
The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce will spend the next few weeks in the air and underwater measuring damage from the last few months.
“We’re hoping that the next 2-3 weeks will cool off quickly, and this year’s bleaching won’t be anything like last year. The severity of the 2016 bleaching was off the chart,” Hughes explained.
“It was the third major bleaching to affect the Great Barrier Reef, following earlier heatwaves in 1998 and 2002. Now we’re gearing up to study a potential number four.”
The study, which was published in Nature, ruled out the possibility that previous bleaching events made the corals tougher.