Thursday, 30 March, 2017

There's only one way to save the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by mass bleaching for the second year in a row Scientists race to prevent wipeout of coral reefs
Mike Hodges | 17 March, 2017, 00:59

When it comes to climate change's impact on the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian government has by-and-large ignored the problem. The event in 2016, for example, left just 9% of surveyed reefs untouched. "We've been hoping that local interventions with water quality and fishing would improve the resistance of the corals to bleaching".

Coral bleaching or loss of algae poses a great threat to the Great Barrier Reef's survival.

The study, published in the journal Nature, examines three major bleaching events on Australian reefs occurring in 1998, 2002 and 2016, but was unable to take into account the latest mass bleaching event occurring this year.

Bleaching is primarily caused by prolonged exposure to high sea surface temperatures (SSTs).

Coral relies on a symbiotic relationship with algae to live, accepting photosynthesized food in return for a place to live. Without them, the corals starve.

"Sadly, we found no evidence that past bleaching makes the corals any tougher", says Hughes.

Hughes released a map of the damage, based on surveys from low-flying planes and helicopters, on Twitter.

The research found that in 2016 catastrophic levels of bleaching occurred in the northern third of the reef, a region about 800km long. Further implications for the ecology of coral reefs arise from the wide spectrum of responses to bleaching among different coral species.

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The bleaching previous year of the reef "strongly reinforces the urgent need to limit climate change", says David Wachenfeld. This was substantially less than the 44% in 1996 and 42% in 2002. It warns that these mass bleaching events shouldn't be considered one-off disturbances, but a recurring risk that poses a threat to coral reefs around the world.

Media captionWhat causes coral bleaching? The chart on the right summarises these proportions. This third global bleaching event, as it is known, continues today, even after El Nino ended.

The research showed that in one area near the northeastern city of Cairns, up to 83 per cent of the reef has died. "Bleaching is an episodic event", Connolly said. Such events have happened in the past, and large swaths of the coral in the unique ecosystem have managed to survive stressful events such as in 1998 and 2002. Dark blue shading indicates 0 DHW, and red is the maximum DHW for each year (7, 10 and 16, respectively).

"On the remote northern Great Barrier Reef, hundreds of individual reefs were severely bleached in 2016 regardless of whether they were zoned as no-entry, no-fishing, or open to fishing, and irrespective of inshore-offshore differences in water quality", the study notes. In other words, the corals didn't adapt to the hotter conditions.

Upon such progress do coral reefs depend, Hughes says.

"Globally what's been happening is the number of these bleaching events is going up and up, and the time interval between them is shrinking".

A study of Australia's Great Barrier Reef shows that the only way to save the world's coral from heat-induced bleaching is with a war on global warming. "What we are saying is that those two interventions are not sufficient to protect coral reefs". Due to climate change, the corals have been exposed to heat-induced bleaching.

"I think what's important is that the climate is changing and that is bringing a much greater frequency of extreme weather events to the Great Barrier Reef", David Wachenfeld, a member of the authority, told ABC News.

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