JUN 08, 2016 2:08 PM PDT

Danger for the Great Barrier Reef


Due to an unfortunate combination of rising sea levels and a major El Niño, new research confirmed from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has reported that approximately one quarter of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef have died this past year. GBRMPA and AIMS have been responsible for monitoring the reef’s health over the last forty year. Their latest data attempts to put into perspective how the changes in coral populations will affect the reef’s ecosystem as a whole.
 
Dead and dying coral at Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The once brilliant coral is blanketed by seaweed - a sign of extreme ecosystem meltdown. Photo Credit: Ocean Agency
 
Although many media sites have published varying percentages reporting the die-off of corals in the reef, the actual publications from the study have yet to be released.  Yet the team decided to release their preliminary results to the public in order to prevent confusion from the media. The combined results from the studies so far show that overall mortality is 22%, with approximately 85% of that die-off occurring in the far north between the tip of Cape York and north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometers north of Cairns, according to Dr. Russell Reichelt, GBRMPA Chairman. To clarify the current status of their research, Dr. Reichelt stated: “Another round of surveys is scheduled for August to October to assess survivorship, before a final assessment is published."

Indeed, the majority of the impact was found in the northern third of the Reef, from Port Douglas to Cape York. However, although the central and southern regions were not seen to suffer such significant mortality, 93% of corals in the reef, including these regions, still show signs of stress from bleaching. “Collaborative efforts by a large number of institutions and tourism industry volunteers allow us to say with confidence that while bleaching caused by heat stress affected most of the Reef, the most severe mass bleaching and the greatest mortality has been restricted to north of Port Douglas,” said Dr.Reichelt.
 
Giant clams, like coral, rely on symbiotic algae to photosynthesise and provide them with energy. And just like coral, when the water gets too warm for too long, the algae is expelled and the clams become starved of energy. Photograph: the Ocean Agency
 
The GBRMPA assessed coral mortality using hundreds of comprehensive in-water surveys conducted throughout the reef system since early March. The surveys were supported by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and other partners.
Those corals that did survive the bleaching episode now face the ever-growing struggle to recover amidst a climate change crisis of harsher marine conditions unfriendly to fragile corals. Greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution need to decrease drastically in order to foster habitats in which the corals can continue their life cycles.

With a spark of optimism, Dr. Reichelt stated: “And while we know many corals in the northern sector will die, others will recover from bleaching over the coming months and we’re hopeful that in areas where bleaching has been minor the Reef will bounce back well. We know the Great Barrier Reef, which is larger than Italy, is still resilient with the ability to recover from major events, given enough time. The agency's strong protective measures, including no-take green zones which make up 33 per cent of the Marine Park, play a critical role in maintaining the resilience of the wider ecosystem. This underlying resilience was on display recently when the Australian Institute of Marine Science found coral cover increased by 19 per cent across the Marine Park between 2012 and 2015, nearly doubling in the southern sector due to good early recovery from cyclones and floods.”
 

Sources: The Guardian, Desmog, Cairns Post, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
NOV 25, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Cactus Spines Inspire Diagnostic Tools Without the Prick
NOV 25, 2021
Cactus Spines Inspire Diagnostic Tools Without the Prick
Did you know that there are over 1700 species of cacti—spiny plants that have evolved to survive some of the harsh ...
NOV 22, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Revealing the Battle Between Organisms & Selfish Genetic Elements
NOV 22, 2021
Revealing the Battle Between Organisms & Selfish Genetic Elements
Evolution has allowed organisms to adapt to their environments, sometimes in very specific ways, through changes in thei ...
DEC 08, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Drilling Begins for Antarctica's Oldest Ice
DEC 08, 2021
Drilling Begins for Antarctica's Oldest Ice
One of the pivotal sets of data in understanding Earth's climate have been the EPICA ice cores from Antarctica, pieces o ...
DEC 10, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Negative Effects of Road Salt
DEC 10, 2021
Negative Effects of Road Salt
As the weather gets colder, snow begins to fall, and the roads get icy. Soon, the plows will be out in force, pushing sn ...
DEC 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
New Method for Rainfall Simulation
DEC 21, 2021
New Method for Rainfall Simulation
Land use, or what humans use their land for like agriculture, residential, or industrial purposes, has a big impact on t ...
JAN 11, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Fire Retardant Coating Inspired by Molten Lava
JAN 11, 2022
Fire Retardant Coating Inspired by Molten Lava
While residential fires have declined over the recent decades, the uncontrollable blazes can still wreak havoc, as the r ...
Loading Comments...