For the second year in a row, the Great Barrier Reef has been devastated by coral bleaching. According to researchers, this marks the first time the reef has not had several years between bleaching events to recover.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science spent six hours conducting an expansive aerial survey from Townsville to Cairns, Australia. They found that bleaching is affecting the central part of the park—which just last year had escaped severe bleaching.
Warmer oceanic waters, an effect of climate change, prompt an increase in coral bleaching around the world. Here’s Mary Bowerman, reporting for USA Today:
The vibrant colors that draw thousands of tourists to the Great Barrier Reef each year come from algae that live in the coral’s tissue. When water temperatures become too high, coral becomes stressed and expels the algae, which leave the coral a bleached white color. While some of the areas are expected to regain their normal color when temperatures drop, other parts of the reef have already experienced significant mortality of bleached coral.
The back-to-back summers of widespread coral bleaching likely mean that the water temperatures did not become low enough to allow the corral to adequately recovered, Neal Cantin from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said in a statement.
What happens next will depend on local weather conditions over the next few weeks, said Marine Park Authority Director of Reef Recovery Dr. David Wachenfeld in a statement . While this bleaching is extremely alarming, it does not mean all of the bleached coral will die.
Photo credit: Matt Kieffer / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)