Australia's Great Barrier Reef suffers sixth mass bleaching event
The Great Barrier Reef, home to some 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc, was suffering despite the cooling effect of the La Nina weather phenomenon, which is currently influencing Australia's climate
Australia on Friday declared that the Great Barrier Reef is suffering "mass bleaching" as corals lose their colour under the stress of warmer seas.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in a weekly update most of the marine park had been hit by "significant heat stress" over the summer, with water temperatures in some areas as much as 2-4 degrees Celsius above average.
"Bleaching has been detected across the Marine Park, it is widespread but variable, across multiple regions, ranging in impact from minor to severe," the agency said in an update on its website.
Aerial surveys showed whole colonies of coral had been bleached white in several locations, and in some sections there were reports of corals dying, it said.
"Corals across the Marine Park remain vulnerable to the ongoing elevated temperatures," the authority said.
The Great Barrier Reef, home to some 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc, was suffering despite the cooling effect of the La Nina weather phenomenon, which is currently influencing Australia's climate, the authority said.
The area, which comprises about 2,500 individual reefs and more than 900 islands, suffers from bleaching when corals expel algae living in their tissues, draining them of their vibrant colours.
Though bleached corals are under stress, they can still recover if conditions become more moderate, the Reef Authority said.
"Weather patterns over the next couple of weeks continue to remain critical in determining the overall extent and severity of coral bleaching across the Marine Park," it said.
The mass bleaching report emerged four days after the United Nations began a monitoring mission to assess whether the World Heritage site is being protected from climate change.
The environmental group Greenpeace said the severe and widespread coral bleaching suffered during a La Niña weather pattern that is associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures was evidence of the Australian government’s failure to protect the coral from the impacts of climate change.
“This is a sure sign that climate change caused by burning coal, oil and gas is threatening the very existence of our reef,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Climate Impacts Campaigner Martin Zavan said in a statement.
In July last year, Australia garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, to downgrade the reef’s World Heritage status to “in danger“ because of damage caused by climate change.
(With inputs from agencies)