Is The Great Barrier Reef Dead After Second Year Of Mass Coral Bleaching?

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is probably dying as it's now suffering from mass coral bleaching for two years in a row, Yahoo reports.

The 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) reef suffered its worst coral bleaching last year due to warmer sea temperatures from March to April.

But now the reef appears to be in a sorrier state, as the Australian government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed that the bio-diverse site has undergone coral bleaching for a second consecutive year after an aerial survey off Australia's eastern coast on Thursday.

"Regrettably, the temperatures have been high on the Great Barrier Reef this summer as well and unfortunately (we) are here to confirm... a mass coral bleaching event for the second consecutive year," said David Wachenfeld, Authority's reef recovery director, in a Facebook video.

"And importantly, this is the first time we've ever seen the Great Barrier Reef bleached two years in sequence. We've seen heat stress build since December," he added.

Neal Cantin from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said that the second consecutive year of mass bleaching makes it difficult for the corals to recover.

"We are seeing a decrease in the stress tolerance of these corals," Cantin added.

"This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover."

"Many coral species appear to be more susceptible to bleaching after more than 12 months of sustained above-average ocean temperatures."

Scientists say that the Great Barrier Reef's corals could die six to 12 months after bleaching.

Coral bleaching happens when warm sea temperatures cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, thus making them lose their color.

Corals, however, can recover once the sea temperature drops, giving the algae the opportunity to recolonize the reef.

Researchers said in January that while the reef may survive, the damage could remain with little chance of recovery.

Back in October last year, Outside Magazine Online published a piece declaring that the reef has died, causing widespread panic around the world. The piece opened with the statement "The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old."

Scientists, however, debunked the claim, saying that the piece was an exaggeration.

The claim that the Great Barrier Reef is dead was debunked by, pointing out that while the reef remains under threat, there's still hope for recovery if the global society makes a concerted effort to "reverse these discouraging downward trends."

But with the new report on the reef's second consecutive year of bleaching, the prognosis is not looking good. With the threat of climate change looming over everything, coupled with the fact that Australia is one of the world's worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters, the reef's future is looking grim.

"I did not anticipate back-to-back bleaching this decade," WWF-Australia's oceans division head Richard Leck said.

"Scientists warned that without sufficient emissions reductions we could expect annual mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef by 2050. Consecutive bleaching events have arrived 30 years early."
The Australian Marine Convervation Society said on Friday that the construction of an Indian-backed coal project near the reef should be abandoned as it puts the UNESCO World Heritage site at greater risk.

Wachenfield said that there's not enough data yet to confirm whether this year's bleaching event was worse than last year's.

Reef scientists will be conducting surveys over the rest of the Great Barrier Reef in the next two weeks, which should give them more data that will help them determine the steps and measures that need to be taken to reverse the damage caused by coral bleaching.

[Featured Image by Phil Walter/Getty Images]