Researchers at Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies were moved to tears after discovering that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef showed some degree of bleaching, and they aren’t holding back in warning of “an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth,” the Washington Post reports.
“I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students. And then we wept,” tweeted ARC Centre Director and project Terry Hughes.
“We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,” he said in a release. “Between 60 and 100% of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half.”
The aerial survey of 911 reefs “found damage ranging from severe to light,” writes the Post’s Chris Mooney. “Severe bleaching means that corals could die, depending on how long they are subject to these conditions. The scientists also reported that based on diving surveys of the northern reef, they already are seeing nearly 50% coral death.”
“This is, by far, the worst bleaching they’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef,” said Mark Eakin, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch. “The fact that the most severely affected regions are those that are remote and hence otherwise in good shape, means that a lot of prime reef is being devastated,” agreed Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution.
Climate Central notes that the effects of this round of bleaching will be felt for decades. “Beyond its beauty, the Great Barrier Reef also has a huge economic benefit on the Australian economy. It generates $4.45 billion in tourism revenue annually and supports nearly 70,000 jobs, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.”
Bleaching is also having a severe impact on coral reefs of the Florida coast, where “scientists witnessed the collapse of a minivan-sized coral colony that had started growing more than three centuries ago, when the Spanish ruled the peninsula,” the Sun Sentinel reports. “As recently as September, live coral tissue covered 90% of the colony’s surface, making it among the oldest living things in the state. By December it was almost completely dead.”