Skip links

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Faces Widespread Coral Bleaching, Highlighting Climate Change Threat

The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biologically diverse habitats globally, has experienced a significant coral bleaching event, likely triggered by heat stress accumulated during the summer, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), a government agency overseeing the reef’s health.

GBRMPA reported on Friday that the damage is extensive, affecting at least two-thirds of the surveyed areas. The reef, spanning 2,300km off Australia’s northeastern coast, serves as a vital ecosystem, hosting hundreds of coral species, 1,500 fish species, and 4,000 molluscs. Coral reefs globally play a crucial role in supporting marine life, protecting coastal communities, and acting as natural carbon sinks, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change-induced stress.

Coral bleaching, a consequence of elevated sea surface temperatures, results in corals losing their colorful algae and turning white. While corals can survive such events, prolonged or intense heat may lead to coral deaths, impacting their growth and reproductive capabilities.

Roger Beeden, chief scientist at GBRMPA, emphasized the consistency of the results with prolonged above-average sea surface temperatures in the Marine Park. He highlighted the need for in-water surveys to assess the severity and depth range of the coral bleaching.

Australia’s Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, acknowledged climate change as the primary threat to coral reefs worldwide, including the Great Barrier Reef. She urged collective action to address climate change and safeguard unique ecosystems.

The bleaching event aligns with global reports of coral reef distress due to elevated sea temperatures, driven by climate change and exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon. The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned of a potential fourth mass coral bleaching event worldwide.

WWF expressed concern, emphasizing that the current bleaching event affects areas previously unexposed to extreme temperatures. Unless temperatures drop significantly in the coming weeks, the risk of substantial coral mortality remains high, according to Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s head of oceans.

The Great Barrier Reef has witnessed mass bleaching events in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, and now in 2022, as reported by the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Despite these challenges, Australia has vehemently opposed the United Nations’ proposal to list the Great Barrier Reef as endangered, fearing economic repercussions, as the reef contributes about $6 billion Australian dollars to the economy and supports 64,000 jobs. An endangered listing could jeopardize its heritage status and tourist appeal.

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.