Coral Bleaching Continues in Australian Reefs

In 2016 the Great Barrier Reef suffered the worst coral bleaching to date. 2017 is set to mark a new record.

By KATE PURNELL
20/02/17

Last year the Great Barrier Reef suffered its worst coral bleaching to date, but 2017 is set to mark a new record again.

Data collected last year by research fellow Dr King at the University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science shows that 25% of the coral along the Great Barrier Reef has died and 93% of coral has been effected by bleaching. In the Northern Sector of the reef, 81% has been determined “severely bleached”.

But coral bleaching isn’t only occurring along the Great Barrier Reef. Last year the Western Australian coastline suffered severe bleaching throughout it’s unique reef zones, particularly in the Kimberley region. Dr Schoepf’s research concluded 50% of inshore Kimberley reefs had been bleached last year, and in certain offshore reefs, such as Scott Reef, bleaching had damaged 60-90% of the total vegetation.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies research associate Dr Verena Schoepf said coral bleaching is a stress response that nowadays primarily occurs in response to unusually warm ocean temperatures.

“Corals are easily susceptible to bleaching as they are highly dependent on their symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae. Even an increase of 1-2 degrees Celsius in water temperatures can tamper with this relationship. The destruction of a relationship between corals and algae deprives corals of their main food source and, since they get most of their colour and also most of their food from the algae, they bleach. The bleached look of the coral occurs as a result of malnourishment which turns the tissue transparent, revealing the corals skeleton.”

Once bleaching takes place it can take 10-15 years for it to recover. However, with the consistently rising temperature of the water creating further damage to the corals it is becoming unlikely that corals will survive, leaving them permanently bleached and destroyed due to heat.

It is understood other threats to Australian reef zones include water pollution, overfishing, dredging, coal mining and cyclones.

If corals along the Great Barrier Reef continue to die, detrimental consequences are likely to occur to the reefs ecosystems. The ABC reported last year that there has been a noticeable decrease in fish as the reef zones become less inhabitable. The tourism industry is also predicted to suffer, as it contributes $6 billion a year to the Australian economy and provides approximately 70,000 jobs.

As water temperatures progressively increase along the reef- due primarily to CO2 emissions- it is important to actively reduce our carbon footprint and work towards mitigating climate change and ocean warming. Changes we can make to our daily lives to reduce our carbon footprint include eating less meat, investing in renewable energy and being aware of state and federal policies regarding climate change.

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