Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffers a major coral bleaching event caused by increased heat stress observed over summer, reports say.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had previously warned about the potential for a fourth global mass bleaching event, which could have severe implications for tropical reefs worldwide, including the Great Barrier Reef.

Rising Temperatures Threaten Coral Health

Roger Beeden, the Chief Scientist at GBRMPA, emphasized the urgency of conducting in-water surveys to understand the full extent and severity of the bleaching. The phenomenon, primarily affecting shallow water corals, reflects a global trend where increased sea temperatures, driven by climate change and El Nino effects, lead to widespread coral distress.

Urgent Calls for Action

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has highlighted the repeated nature of these events, marking this as the fifth occurrence within just eight years. The consistent rise in temperatures puts unprecedented stress on the reef, threatening areas that had not previously experienced such extreme conditions. Richard Leck from WWF-Australia voiced concerns over the immediate need for cooler temperatures to prevent significant coral loss.

“WWF is very concerned that this bleaching event is unfolding in an area where corals have not been previously exposed to these extreme temperatures. Unless we see a significant drop off in temperatures in the next few weeks, the risk of significant coral mortality is high,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“Five mass bleaching events in eight years shows that climate change is putting tremendous pressure on the Reef.” Mr Leck added.

Economic and Environmental Stakes

Coral bleaching, which causes corals to lose their vibrant colors, can lead to decreased growth and reproduction rates, even if the corals survive the event. The Great Barrier Reef plays a crucial role in Australia’s economy, contributing approximately $4 billion (A$6 billion) annually and supporting around 64,000 jobs. Efforts have been made to prevent the reef from being listed as an endangered UNESCO site, as such a designation could reduce its attractiveness to tourists and, consequently, its economic benefits.

The major coral bleaching event in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef serves as a reminder of the fragility of our planet’s ecosystems and the pressing need for concerted action on climate change. The global community is called upon to take decisive steps to protect this natural wonder for future generations.

Image Source: NOAA