The Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s greatest living wonders, is bleaching more frequently and severely than ever.
According to an extensive new report from Bloomberg, about 30 percent of the corals died in 2016. The following year, the reef suffered back-to-back mass bleaching events (which is unprecedented in modern history). The result was more than half of the corals dying along two-thirds of the entire reef.
Fast forward to 2018 and there’s not a single section of the Great Barrier Reef that hasn’t experienced at least some bleaching, Bloomberg reported.
The Great Barrier Reef is the third-most popular tourist attraction in Australia, behind beaches and wildlife.
Even if you’re not interested in the environment, it’s important to note that the reef supports 64,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion annually to Australia’s national economy, Bloomberg pointed out.
As the news organization reported, climate change is behind the ongoing damage to the reef. That’s supported by a new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that the Earth’s atmosphere is already about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
What’s more, the climate is on track to rise three degrees by 2100. This is notable because it is double the pace targeted by the Paris climate agreement. Further, a rise of just 1.5 degrees, by many accounts, would have a catastrophic impact, including the destruction of between 70 to 90 percent of the world’s corals.
A hotter atmosphere translates into warmer oceans and when the oceans get warmer, corals die.
Scientists at The University of Queensland, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reefs Studies (Coral CoE) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) also recently reported a decline in the ability of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park reefs to recover after bleaching events.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Juan Ortiz, from The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, said that average coral recovery rates have shown a six-fold decline across the Great Barrier Reef.
“This is the first time a decline in recovery rate of this magnitude has been identified in coral reefs,” he said, according to phys.org.
Adding to the challenge – not everyone believes the reef is dying – either in Australia or globally. It’s no secret that climate change is the subject of much debate.
Amid all of the debate and skepticism, there have been some inaccurate reports that the reef is recovering. While coral can rebound from bleaching, scientists say a recovery story recently put forth by the Reef & Rainforest Research Centre is “biologically impossible.”
The Australian government meanwhile, is doing its best to maintain the message that the reef is healthy, Bloomberg reported.
A few years ago, the country’s Department of Environment and Energy lobbied to have the reef removed from a UN report on World Heritage sites threatened by climate change.
The department later issued a statement noting that: “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism.”
There are various groups and organizations that continue to try to help the reef. The non-profit Reef Restoration Foundation studies corals that survive bleaching events and enlists tourist volunteers to help with its efforts.
In addition, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a group of businesses, calls upon participants to do six things to help save the reef – among them eliminating plastic bags, bottles, straws, cups; reducing food waste and sponsoring a scuba diver, according to Bloomberg.
There are those who believe that engaging visitors in the conservation of the reef has the potential to have a lasting effort. According to this line of thinking, those who have a connection to the reef are more likely to continue to take action when they return home.
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