Great Barrier Reef suffers mass bleaching

2016-03-29 19:57
Great barrier reef. (AIMS, AFP)

Great barrier reef. (AIMS, AFP)

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Sydney - Almost all of the most pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef is suffering from severe bleaching, the "worst mass bleaching event" on record, an aerial survey by scientists showed on Tuesday.

Bleaching, when corals turn white often due to a change in environmental conditions, makes them more vulnerable to breaking down and dying.

The surveys of more than 500 coral reefs from Cairns in Australia to Papua New Guinea revealed that "almost without exception, every reef showed consistently high levels of bleaching, from the reef slope right up onto the top of the reef."

"This has been the saddest research trip of my life," professor Terry Hughes, the convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, said in a statement.

The research team flew over some 4 000km of water but found only four reefs that had no bleaching.

Bleaching is caused by a die-off of the living organisms, or algae, inside the coral, and can be triggered by small changes in conditions including a rise in temperature or acidification.

It is the loss of these colourful algae that causes the corals to turn white and "bleach."

The corals can recover from bleaching if the algae is able to recolonize them, but it is in the meantime more vulnerable to erosion and other risks.

"The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998," Hughes said. "Even more concerning, we haven't yet found the southern limit of the bleaching."

The group will conduct further aerial surveys in the central Great Barrier Reef to identify where it stops, he said.

Last week, the coral bleaching threat level was increased to its highest level at the Great Barrier Reef, the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem and one of the main sources of tourism and biodiversity in the region.

Last year, the reef narrowly avoided being put on the United Nations' List of World Heritage in Danger, after Australia made efforts to develop its 2050 protection plan, including stopping waste-dumping, limiting port development and cleaning the water going to the reef.

Read more on:    australia  |  marine life

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