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5th mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in 8 years

Eco Voice
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First published in 2003, Eco Voice is your go-to publication for sustainability news in Australia. Eco Voice prides itself as an independent news platform with a clear focus on sustainability, with articles coming from a diverse range of contributors – all levels of government, corporations, not-for-profits, community groups, small to medium sized businesses, universities, research organisations, together with input from international sources. Eco Voice values community, conservation and commerce. Eco Voice is a media partner of the prestigious Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards – The Peak Sustainability Awards.

Bleached coral at Heron Island © Diana Kleine / Divers For Climate / AAP

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia is deeply concerned by the official declaration of another mass coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef – the 5th since 2016.

A mass coral bleaching event is confirmed when heat stress causes corals over a wide area to bleach. Australia’s international treasure suffered mass coral bleaching in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and now 2024.

The current underwater heatwave is most intense in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Since 2016, this area has largely escaped the severe impacts caused by bleaching as previous events have occurred further north.

“WWF is very concerned that this bleaching event is unfolding in an area where corals have not been previously exposed to these extreme temperatures. Unless we see a significant drop off in temperatures in the next few weeks, the risk of significant coral mortality is high,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“Five mass bleaching events in eight years shows that climate change is putting tremendous pressure on the Reef.

“The Queensland government recently stepped up on its emissions reduction targets. The federal government needs to commit to a 2035 target of 90% below 2005 levels, its current ambition is nowhere near enough to give the reef a fighting chance.

“Queensland remains a deforestation hotspot. Destroying trees releases huge amounts of carbon and increases the sediment that can smother coral. Greater ambition on emissions targets and stronger action on tree clearing are the most critical actions for the Reef’s future. The latest national survey, commissioned by the Biodiversity Council, shows 95% of Australians support increased federal government investment in nature,” Mr Leck said.

The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which monitors coral bleaching around the world, has placed large parts of the Great Barrier Reef on Alert level 2 , which means there’s a risk of reef-wide coral bleaching with mortality of heat-sensitive corals.

Mr Leck said the last global coral bleaching event occurred from 2014 to 2017 and it appears this could be another  global event.  The bleaching started in the northern hemisphere last year causing catastrophic coral mortality in Florida and the Caribbean.

Previous bleaching events

 

 

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