Great Barrier Reef can’t recover from global warming damage


We’ve all heard about the effects of global warming, but one reef expert says that it’s pushing the Great Barrier Reef toward a “massive death.”

Coral in Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef just can’t handle the heat. 

In fact, as global warming heats the reef, the coral there isn’t able to recover, according to new research published Wednesday.

“Dead corals don’t make babies,” said study lead author Terry Hughes of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.  

“The number of new corals settling on the Great Barrier Reef declined by 89% following the unprecedented loss of adult corals because of global warming in 2016 and 2017,” Hughes said. He called the results “quite shocking.” 

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef, and is made up of over 2,900 individual reefs on 900 islands in the Pacific Ocean off of Queensland, Australia. It extends for some 1,400 miles.

So far, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced four mass bleaching events due
to global warming, in 1998, 2002, and back-to-back in 2016 and 2017.

Warmer, more acidic ocean water is the cause of the bleaching, Pieter Tans, chief greenhouse gas scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said last year. The bleaching occurs when algae that live inside and nourish coral, which provides their brilliant colors, wither from the warming waters and die, leaving behind white coral skeletons.

Coral reefs: At severe risk as world’s oceans become more acidic

“Coral bleaching is a stress response caused by exposure of coral reefs to elevated ocean temperatures,” study co-author Andrew Baird, also of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said last year. “When bleaching is severe and prolonged, many of the corals die.” 

The study released Wednesday “shows that reef resilience is now severely compromised by global warming,” Baird said.

Bleaching has affected almost every coral reef on the planet, and scientists predict that the gap between pairs of coral bleaching events will continue to shrink as global warming intensifies. 

More: Coral reefs save billions of dollars worldwide by preventing floods

A 2018 study found that in the early 20th century, there was an average of two marine heat waves per year globally, but now there are three or four, the CBC said.

“This means a marine ecosystem that used to experience 30 days of extreme heat per year in the early 20th century is now experiencing 45 marine heatwave days per year,” Eric Oliver of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia reported last year. 

Wednesday’s study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.


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