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Published: Fri, March 17, 2017
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Scientists mobilise as bleaching returns to Great Barrier Reef

Scientists mobilise as bleaching returns to Great Barrier Reef

The coral researchers are from James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Thus, differences in the severity of bleaching during the three events can be explained by differences in magnitude and spatial distribution of sea surface temperature anomalies. Large parts have died completely, while other sections are merely damaged, but unless the seawater cools soon the outlook for recovery is grim.

INSKEEP: It's a disaster for wildlife and for tourism and part of what the paper calls a global-scale event.

Though that could all be ending soon, after evidence of a massive die-off of the reef was reported in Nature. Despite their ghastly appearance, bleached reefs may still be alive.

Coral naturally has bright colors from microscopic algae that live inside the coral. It might require a rude awakening for officials to back away from policies that hurt coral reefs, and there's no guarantee that one will happen in time. The white coral then evicts the colorful algae as a measure of self-defense. Er, if temperatures drop.

INSKEEP: That's what Mia Hoogenboom saw while exploring the Great Barrier Reef.

Significant chunks of the reef, dotted across hundreds of miles of the northern sector, were recently found bleached and dead - something previously estimated to be a full three-decades from becoming a reality. Overfishing and pollution pose significant threats to coral reef habitats, but these dangers pale in comparison to rising ocean temperatures.

Terry Hughes said in a statement that global warming is not a future threat.

The current event that is being noted along the famous stretch of Australian coast is not the worst event that scientists have witnessed.

"Now we're gearing up to study a potential number four", Hughes said. The question was whether such efforts could provide the corals any resistance to bleaching, or just help them recover.

The study shows that very intense coral bleaching events are no longer isolated and are happening more regularly, said coral reef scientist Julia Baum of Canada's University of Victoria.

"I'm confident that we'll still have coral reefs if we can keep below 2. It's our worst nightmare".

Coral researchers said a fourth bleaching episode was unfolding at the Great Barrier Reef, warning climate change has positioned the natural wonder in a position of "life and death".

A government report, which was submitted to Unesco in December detailing Australia's progress in protecting the reef, highlighted climate change, but made no attempt to address the problem. "A future that we thought was decades coming is basically here".

Pratchett told BBC News he believed it is still possible to stop the damage now being done to The Great Barrier Reef by curbing emissions.

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