The Great Barrier Reef Might Be Undergoing A Sixth Mass Bleaching Event After “Severe” Damage

“It’s very difficult to see this happening to the reef.”

Great Barrier Reef

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Experts fear the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing another mass bleaching event after extensive damage was documented.

Dead coral was spotted via aerial survey last week over an area of more than 2000 kilometres, particularly around Townsville in North Queensland. It comes as a United Nations delegation began an assessment on Monday to see if the reef should be listed as a World Heritage Site In Danger.

The bleaching is thought to be due to weeks of unusual heat in the state, which stresses the corals, according to the Weather Channel. If too warm, coral expels the algae that makes it so colourful and provides it with the energy to live; and if the temperature doesn’t cool down on time, the algae ends up dying.

Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority described the bleaching around the central reef area as “severe”, with 60 percent of corals along a 500 kilometre stretch experiencing damage.

The chief scientist at the GBRMPA said that there is opportunity for recovery if sea surface temperatures return back to normal in the near future. “It’s a bad sign on its own, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will die,” said Dr David Wachenfeld to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It’s very difficult to see this happening to the reef, but we have to remember that the solution lies in long-term global emissions reduction, and working to protect the resilience of the system,” he said.

The Climate Council have warned in a report coral bleaching could take place in the reef every two years come 2034, and every year by 2044. The group said that without emissions being cut by between 50 and 75 percent this decade, the reef would face irreversible damage, and might not make a comeback.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the Federal Government has invested $1 billion to “strengthen its resilience in the face of these challenges”.

“This is the best-managed reef in the world and as a result of our collaborations with scientists, reef managers, traditional owners, farmers, and local communities it is also the most closely monitored,” they said.

The last bleaching episode was in 2020, and if the GBRMPA rules this an official mass bleaching event, would form the sixth occurrence since 1998, with three of those times having been since 2016.