Heat wave causes damage to Great Barrier reefDate: 28 March 2020 Tags: Climate Change
Record-breaking warm waters have bleached large parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef this year, the latest sign that global warming threatens the health of one of the world’s most important marine ecosystems.
Reefs around the world have been dying at an alarming rate for several years because of global warming. Reef corals grow very slowly, and while most of them can only live in warm water, they are highly sensitive to above-normal temperatures.
Water that is warmer than normal stresses the corals that create a reef, causing them to lose color and even become white. Corals that experience minor or moderate bleaching usually recover, but those that are severely bleached often die.
The Great Barrier Reef is estimated to support thousands of marine species, and it is essential to the lives of some aboriginal groups and the natives of the Torres Strait Islands, between the Australian mainland and New Guinea. It also drives significant economic activities like tourism and fishing.
The data is not surprising. The same weather patterns that generated record-breaking heat and catastrophic fires in Australia during the Southern Hemisphere’s spring and summer have also heated the oceans.
In terms of water temperatures around the reef, February was the warmest month on record, with readings in some places more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the time of year.
The reef is the world’s largest, running for more than 1,100 miles in the Pacific Ocean, off Australia’s tropical northeastern coast. It consists primarily of the bleached remains of countless past generations of corals and mollusks, with living corals and other invertebrates clinging to its surface.
The government’s Reef 2050 plan aims to reduce the water pollution that also threatens corals, regulating factors like agricultural runoff, dredging and port development. There are also programs in place to control sudden spikes in the population of crown-of-thorns seastars, which feed on coral.
But those measures cannot make up for the damage done by global warming. Climate change remains the single greatest challenge to the reef.