Wed, Mar 30, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Great Barrier Reef most bleached ever: scientists

CLIMATE CHANGE:‘We flew for 4,000km in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching,’ a researcher said

AFP, SYDNEY

An undated handout photo made available yesterday by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies shows bleached coral reef between Cairns, Australia, and Papua New Guinea.

Photo: EPA / ARC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR CORAL REEF STUDIES

Aerial surveys of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have revealed the worst bleaching on record in the icon’s pristine north, scientists said yesterday, with few corals escaping damage.

Researchers said the view was devastating after surveying about 520 reefs via plane and helicopter between Cairns and the Torres Strait in the north of Queensland State.

“This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever,” James Cook University coral reefs expert Terry Hughes told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We’re seeing huge levels of bleaching in the northern 1,000km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.”

Just over one week ago, the Australian government revealed bleaching at the World Heritage-listed site was “severe,” but said that the southern area had escaped the worst.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their color.

Hughes, convener of Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, agreed in a statement that the southern reef had “dodged a bullet due to cloudy weather that cooled the water temperatures down.”

However, he said in the far north — the most remote and pristine areas — almost without exception, every reef showed consistently high levels of bleaching.

“We flew for 4,000km in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching,” he said. “The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998.”

The researchers said that it was too early to know exactly how many corals would die, given that they can recover if the water temperature drops and the algae are able to recolonize them.

However, Kerry said abnormally high temperatures were expected to continue in the northern reaches of the reef for another week.

The Great Barrier Reef — the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystem — is under pressure from the threat of climate change, as well as farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

It narrowly avoided being put on the UN World Heritage in danger list last year, with Canberra working to improve the reef’s health over successive decades.

“When you look at those stark, white photos, you’re looking at the face of climate change,” World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia spokesperson Nick Heath said.

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