A TASKFORCE has been convened to conduct further surveys along the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere in Australia after a second mass coral bleaching event in as many years.

The mobilisation of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, made up of scientists and reef managers from ten research institutions nationwide, coincides with the release of a paper on Wednesday in the prestigious weekly international science journal, Nature.

Director of ARC Centre of Excellence’s Coral Reef Studies and National Coral Bleaching Taskforce convenor Terry P. Hughes was the lead author on the paper.  

He conducted surveys late last year of the Great Barrier Reef, documenting extensive patches of reef that had died and may not ever recover.

From the surveys, Professor Hughes found that 67 percent of the corals had died in a long stretch north of Port Douglas, and in patches, the mortality reached 83 percent.

Unfortunately, these surveys were conducted after the deadline for the Nature journal and were not included in the paper.

The taskforce will spend the next few weeks in the air and underwater measuring the extent of the damage from this summer compared to last, collecting further data to reinforce the urgent need to limit climate change.

Co-author Dr Janice Lough, Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, in a statement yesterday, said the coral bleaching event came down to one major factor, the temperature of the water.

“Average sea-surface temperatures for the Australian summer 2016 were the highest ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

“In each of the three (coral bleaching) events since 1998, the pattern of bleaching matches exactly where the warmest water was each year.  That allows us to predict when and where bleaching is likely to occur this year.”

One thing that doesn’t require predicting is that the reef is in extreme danger, with its biggest threat global warming, and demands urgent attention, as agreed by world leaders in the Paris Agreement.

The release of the paper has seen interest in the issue increase, with the New York Times reporting on the demise of the reef, and other international news outlets following suit.

With awareness and full implementation of the government’s Reef 2050 plan sooner rather than later, there is hope that the reef will recover and thrive once more.

What is coral bleaching? Watch as Biopixel co-founder, marine biologist and underwater filmmaker Richard Fitzpatrick explains:


Richard Fitzpatrick talking about coral bleaching 2017 from BIOPIXEL on Vimeo.

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