Scientists have been warning us for several years now that the Great Barrier Reef is dying, and in recent years, the situation has become dire as the world’s largest coral structure is showing signs of environmental damage that can only be reversed if steps are taken now to reduce the temperature of the ocean. In 2016, the Great Barrier Reef experienced the worst bleaching event that has been recorded, with two others occurring in 1998 and 2002 according to the Washington Post. Now scientists are warning that another bleaching event is occurring in the steadily dying underwater fields of coral, and if something isn’t done to fix the environmental damage that has triggered these negative changes to the landscape off the coast of Australia, the situation could become more dire.
Coral bleaching occurs when the water it lives in becomes too warm. The coral then sheds the living algae that covers its tissues and nothing is left except for the bare, white dead coral structure that is often seen displayed in fish tanks or on tables in homes. The original living coral of the Great Barrier Reef is much more beautiful than the dead pieces that are being left behind after these bleaching events occur.
The current event that is being noted along the famous stretch of Australian coast is not the worst event that scientists have witnessed. That happened just last year. They are comparing what is happening right now to the amount of damage that was seen in both 1998 and 2002. However, this is the first time that scientists have seen coral bleaching occur in the Great Barrier Reef for two years in a row, which has many environmentalists worried about the future of the living coral found there and elsewhere in the oceans of the world.
“This one won’t be as bad as 2016, but it could be more comparable to 1998 or 2002,” said Terry Hughes, the lead author of the new study and director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. “It’s an open question whether it’s the third- or second-most-severe.”
Scientists are warning that the only way to save the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reef structures is to reverse global warming quickly.
“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” Hughes said. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”
In 2016, the Great Barrier Reef experienced coral bleaching that has been called the worst on record. Scientists reported that at least 85 percent of the world’s largest reef sustained damage last year with a good portion of that damage occurring in the northernmost part of the 2,300-foot-long reef.
Now scientists are researching what conditions need to occur in order for the reef to repair itself. One worrisome finding is that clean water, a necessity for a healthy reef system, is not enough for the living structure to repair itself after a bleaching event occurs due to elevated ocean temperatures.
Currently, aerial surveys are being conducted to measure just how much damage the Great Barrier Reef has sustained just three months into 2017. So far, scientists have agreed that the event has not been as severe as last year and probably won’t be. It is worth worrying about, though, because of the fact that coral bleaching has happened in that same area two years in a row.
If the Great Barrier Reef is allowed to die, some of the most amazing underwater life goes with it. That won’t just impact snorkelers and scuba divers who want to experience the beauty of the reef. It also impacts a lot of poor villages who rely on reef fish as a primary food source.
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