Sobering news for environmentalists and climate change researchers as National Geographic reports that more than half of the Great Barrier Reef is now dead. Worse yet, the bulk of the damage appears to have been done since 2016, signaling a major shift in GBR’s ability to rebound from trauma and the increasing impact of warming ocean temperatures.
Over the past couple of years, heatwaves in Australia have brought sweltering temperatures across the country and the oceans that sit just off its coast. Those intense temperatures have apparently caused the corals that make up the Great Barrier Reef to bleach, which is a process that is taking place in other parts of the world too. Bleaching occurs when increased water temperatures cause the colorful algae that cover the corals to die off, leaving the corals themselves to essentially starve to death. The two organisms have a symbiotic relationship, with the algae helping do to provide food and nutrients to the coral, which in turn offers shelter and protection.
According to Nat Geo, roughly 30% of the corals that make up the reef perished in 2016, with another 20% disappearing last year. The GBR’s north coast appears to be the hardest hit so far, with much of the region now being left barren and dead. It has gotten so bad that researchers now believe that those sections of the reef are now well beyond repair.
Extreme coral reef bleaching is not a new phenomenon and has actually been taking place for centuries. But in the past it generally occurred about once every 27 years. However, climate change and increased ocean temperatures have caused that process to speed up. Now, the bleaching process takes place about every six years, which doesn’t give the reef all of the time it needs to recover.
Lest anyone come to the conclusion that the loss of coral reefs won’t have much impact on man, I’d point you to this story from just a few months back. In a nutshell, it says that research indicates that the reefs serve as a shield from massive storms that form out in the ocean and without them we’ll face much more damage and destruction inland. In fact, the article contends that flood damage alone could double in the years ahead as reef systems around the globe continue to collapse.
That’s a sobering thought indeed.
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