Over 90 Per Cent Of The Great Barrier Reef Is Bleached, And May Never Recover

Image: Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

We need to take action to stop rising sea temperatures from global warming right now if we have any hope of preventing mass coral bleaching in the future, according to a group of Australian scientists. The researchers warn it is "unlikely" the reef will ever recover from a 2016 bleaching event affecting over 90 per cent of the reef.

A detailed analysis of the Great Barrier Reef over the past two decades shows that extreme heat is the key driver of mass bleaching. As temperatures continue to rise, further bleaching events are likely, which researchers say may push the reef system beyond recovery.

Rising sea surface temperatures due to global warming have triggered major bleaching events in tropical coral reefs, and this damage can be potentially fatal to these delicate ecosystems. The most severe event in 2016, driven by record temperatures in the 2015–2016 El Nino event, bleached over 90 per cent of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

To understand more about the effects of climate change on reefs, Terry Hughes and colleagues assessed three major bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002 and 2016. By analysing individual reefs, the researchers determined why some corals are more prone to bleaching than others.

They found that the distinctive geographical footprint of bleaching is primarily driven by patterns of sea temperatures; in general, unbleached reefs were located towards the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, where waters are generally cooler.

Local management of reef fisheries and water quality offered little to no protection against extreme heat, but the researchers note that these efforts may help these ecosystems to recover from bleaching events.

However, it is unlikely that the Great Barrier Reef will ever fully recover from the severe bleaching that occurred in 2016, and the security of coral reefs requires urgent and rapid global action to curb future warming, researchers conclude.


WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    I'm currently going scuba diving at as many reef locations as I can at the moment and I'd recommend everyone able to does the same. There's a good chance this is the last chance you'll get.

      Yeah I'm taking the family there in a few months, might be the last chance (if it's not already too late after the 2017 bleaching).

      The reefs fine, stop panicking, if your looking for all the best spots "in" that 10% thats left, give the One Nation offices a call, and ask for either Pauline Hanson and Malcolm "Coal miner" Roberts, they went diving there last year, assuring us it was all fine. Malcolm became an expert on climate change after reading google for an hour.

      It is important to note that they only dove the most southern tip.
      Edit - Someone suggested they go further north but Pauline apparently doesn't like the look of all that "white" coral ;) Which is strange because normally shes loves the "all white" areas.

      Last edited 17/03/17 1:03 pm

    The fisheries industry will probably collapse once the reef dies, as there will be no where for the fish fry to mature!

    On the bright side, without a reef to worry about the Queensland government no longer has to worry about hampering mining investment and development in the area (yes, it's sarcasm).

    Consider this "urgent and rapid" intervention. If the last 30 years say, of anthropomorphic carbon dioxide emissions is of particular significance, it would take 30 years of active capture and storage of carbon dioxide at the same rate as what we produced it to make any difference.

    Anyone know of any method of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at at least the same rate at which it was produced? Must obviously run on renewable energy and produce little or no carbon dioxide during production.

    Even if we could stop our emissions overnight, it'd still take a thousand years before the effect was felt.

Join the discussion!