Great Barrier Reef suffers third mass bleaching event in five years

A scorching February contributed to the warmest water temperatures in history for the Great Barrier Reef

A scorching February contributed to the warmest water temperatures in history for the Great Barrier Reef

In August past year, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's five-yearly report downgraded its reef outlook from "poor" to "very poor" noting widespread habitat loss and degradation affecting fish, turtles and seabirds.

Even corals leftover from parts of the reef badly damaged in the 2016 and 2017 events, which are thought to be relatively heat-tolerant, again were found to have undergone moderate and severe bleaching. The Australian agency detected "very widespread bleaching", referring to the phenomenon when stressors cause coral to expel algae, its main food source, and turn white, putting them at risk of death.

David Wachenfeld, chief scientist of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said in a video posted on the official website: "We can confirm that the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its third mass bleaching event in five years".

A effect of climate change and rising ocean temperatures, coral bleaching occurs when water is too warm, causing corals to expel algae living in their tissue, which turns them white.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is due to assess the Great Barrier Reef's status as a World Heritage site later this year.

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But it said more areas had been damaged than in previous events. But not all bleached corals die: lightly or moderately bleached corals can recover.

About the size of Japan, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest single structure made by living organisms and a popular tourist attraction.

Australia, whose government backs coal-fired power and has been criticized for its indifference to climate change, has experienced one of its worst droughts in the last few months and one of the most devastating bushfire seasons in history as well as one of the worst storms in decades, in addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Great Barrier Reef is roughly estimated to give support to thousands of marine species, and it plays quite a significant role in the lives of some of the aboriginal groups and the natives of the Torres Strait Islands, located between the Australian mainland and New Guinea.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority a year ago downgraded its outlook for the corals' condition from "poor" to "very poor" due to warming oceans.

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