Concern Builds As NOAA Predicts Further Bleaching Of The Great Barrier Reef This Season

When coral is bleached due to high sea temperatures, it doesn't necessarily die. Sabangvideo/Shutterstock

The Great Barrier Reef has had a rocky few years. The world heritage site, which stretches for thousands of kilometers along the eastern coast of Australia, has been hit by an unprecedented two bleaching events in the past two years. There are now fears that a third – although smaller – bleaching event could occur over the next few months.

The latest forecasts from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Watch program warn that bleaching of portions of the reef is very likely over the coming months leading into February. There are some significant limitations, however, as the further into the future the predictions go, the more hazy and uncertain they become. Regardless, the researchers still believe there is reason to be concerned.

The forecasts have put certain portions of the southern reef, which to date have escaped much of the worst of the recent bleaching, on “Alert Level 1” by late February, which means that while bleaching is considered likely to occur, it is not necessarily expected to be as harsh or prolonged as to cause the coral to die.

There is a greater than 60 percent chance that the southern portion of the reef will experience bleaching. NOAA

“There will probably be some bleaching in some parts of the Great Barrier Reef but so far it doesn’t look anything like the last two years,” Mark Eakin, the head of NOAA’s Coral Watch program, told The Guardian. “However, it’s still early and we’ll know more in a month or so.”

Scientists, however, still think that there is reason to be worried. The last two years have hit the reef hard, with some parts in the north having been decimated and up to 90 percent of the coral in some reefs having been killed. Those who study the reef had hoped that this season the water temperature would stay cooler, giving the coral that did survive a chance to recover.

When the first event hit in 2016, up to 30 percent of the coral was killed, and when this was followed in 2017 by a second event that was driven by El Nino, a further 20 percent of the coral died. Most of this occurred in the north and center of the reef, but if the current predictions hold true, it could soon spread further south.

However, all that is certain right now is that those who rely on the reef for jobs and tourism, as well as those who study the coral, will be holding their breath over the coming months and hoping for the best.

[H/T: The Guardian]

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