Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, was stricken from fear at the sight of bleached white coral along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef. He was passing through the area in a small plane when peered through the window and saw the dreadful scene.
Hughes expresses his fears of losing a lot of corals in the heavily bleached reefs. This year, the world's largest coral reef system underwent its third major bleaching event in the last five years. The Great Barrier Reef also received some bleaching in 2016 and 2017.
The coral bleaching event that took place in 2016 was acknowledged to be the most severe, while this year's bleaching is justifying to be the most far-reaching in terms of the area covered. According to Hughes, it covered Torres Straits in the north to the southern border of the marine park near Bundaberg, covering a distance of about 1,250 miles.
Morgan Pratchett, a professional research fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said in a statement that bleaching is not entirely fatal. Pratchett claims that some lightly-bleached corals tend to recover and return to their natural color within a few weeks or months and continue to survive.
Experts in the field, however, dread that if the trend continues, the Great Barrier Reef may not have a chance to bounce back.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the world. It is a prized World Heritage Area, the most extensive coral reef system, and the most prominent living form on the planet. It is the only living thing on earth detectable from space.
Located off the coast of Queensland, the Reef is a collection of 3,000 individual reef systems and is the home for an incredible assortment of marine life, plants, and animals.
Holding the title as one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, the Reef is notorious for its turquoise waters, colorful corals, abundant marine life, and over 900 islands. Among these are the Whitsunday Islands, Lizard Island, and Heron Island.
Why is Coral Bleaching Done?
Coral bleaching is the aftermath caused by global warming from the mining and burning of fossil fuel, such as coal. Because of global warming, the ocean's temperature rises if the water stays hot for extended periods, the corals bleach and eventually die out.
This year in February, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology recorded the highest sea temperature ever on the Great Barrier Reef. While 40% of the Reef remained unharmed, 25% experienced severe bleaching, and 35% was moderately bleached.
Hughes noted that bleaching is most climactic on a reef that hasn't been bleached for ten years or longer because of the large number of corals. He said that heavily-bleached corals are easy to spot even from a couple of kilometers away as they glow in the distance.
He further denounced that the state of Queensland, where the Reef is, and the Commonwealth government are still both promoting fossil fuels, new coal mines, and more fracking for gas, which poses a threat to the Reef. "There's really no time to lose to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Australian government is not pulling its weight in that regard," Hughes said.