Damage to Great Barrier Reef From Global Warming Is Irreversible, Scientists Say

20 April, 2018, 00:39 | Author: Wilson Dawson
  • Researchers: Great Barrier Reef was devastated by warming waters in 2016, 2017

"In the aftermath of the record-breaking marine heatwave on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, corals began to die immediately on reefs where the accumulated heat exposure exceeded a critical threshold of degree heating week", Hughes and colleagues wrote in the study.

The scientists found the bleaching and subsequent death of coral is now affecting the central region of the reef.

A new study shows that corals in the north of the Great Barrier Reef experienced a catastrophic death following the 2016 marine heat wave.

According to the scientists, as many corals are still dying slowly and it will take at least 10 years to replace the dead corals.

"When corals are bleached from a heat wave, they can survive and recover their colour slowly, as the temperature goes down, or they can die".

The data comes from marine biologists at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, who published a study investigating the dramatic consequences of the unprecedented heatwave that led to the coral bleaching event of 2016.

The underwater heatwave eliminated a huge number of different species of coral during a process which expelled algae after the polyps were stressed.

Eakin said it was surprising how little heat stress was needed to cause the complete collapse of coral reef ecosystems in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

"On some of those northern reefs, depending on the heat exposure, we saw 60, 70, 80, even 90 percent mortality, which is obviously pretty extreme and we were surprised by the scale of it", said Hughes. Hughes said the new research should allow the Great Barrier Reef to be assessed by the IUCN.


"They cooked because the temperatures were so extreme", he said, referring to temperature-sensitive species of corals which began to die nearly immediately when water temperatures rose.

The long-lasting heatwave initially struck staghorn and tabular corals, the authors note in their paper.

"Mature and diverse reef communities are being transformed into more degraded systems, with just a few tough species remaining", he said.

We're now at a point where we've lost close to half of the corals in shallow-water habitats across the northern two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef due to the back-to-back bleaching over two consecutive years.

While numerous most sensitive corals died immediately from heat exposure, many others died in the months that followed after they had been bleached and then been unable to recover. "We need to focus urgently on protecting the glass that's still half full, by helping these survivors to recover", Hughes said.

The team studied the Great Barrier Reef in an attempt to forecast the future of the coral there and quickly discovered just how bad things have gotten.

Hughes and his team of ecologists closely examined the 2,300-kilometre Great Barrier Reef after the 2016 heatwave. "If we fail to curb climate change, and global temperatures rise far above 2 °C [above the pre-industrial level], we will lose the benefits they provide to hundreds of millions of people".

But if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory, the reef will be unrecognizable, they said.

If the targets in the Paris agreement are met, the reef will survive as "a mixture of heat-tolerant [corals], and the ones that can bounce back".

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