Rising global temperatures have caused such widespread damage to the Great Barrier Reefs that scientists believe, its coral may never recover. The world’s largest reef system is deteriorating at rates scientists expected to not see for at least another 30 years. Located off the northeast coast of Australia, it is home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of molluscs and most of these species could be lost permanently as the temperatures are only expected to rise in the coming decades.
This process called the bleaching of the corals has now affected reefs from Florida to Australia. “I saw hundreds of reefs—literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead,” says Justin Ries, Associate Professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences at Northeastern University. “Bleaching primarily occurs when rising seawater temperatures lead the corals to expel the symbiotic algae living within them, draining the corals of their colour and eliminating their principal food source,” he explains.
Research reveals that 93 per cent of the 911 reefs in the Great Barrier Reef they surveyed by air have been bleached to some extent and that more than one-third of them are experiencing severe bleaching. Waves of ocean warming events have led the corals to expel the symbiotic algae living within them, draining the corals of their colour and eliminating their principal food source.
“The longer the heating of the seawater continues, the greater the stress to the coral,” he adds. “The corals exposed to temperatures as little as 1 degree Celsius above the mean summertime temperatures for more than six to eight weeks can lead to widespread bleaching—even approaching 100 per cent bleaching—and death from thermal stress.”
Scientists expect the coral may recover over the next few years-that is hoping another bleaching event doesn’t occur. The invaluable corals that support tourism, provide protective barriers to shorelines, support biodiversity, provide nursery grounds for commercial fisheries could all one day be lost and there’s no other way of tackling it other than making global temperatures go down. This is a great loss of the health of our ecosystem as a whole, including ourselves.