Warming seas wreck Great Barrier Reefs regrowth

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef

Scientists studying the reef's capacity to bounce back from those episodes detailed a disheartening set of findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The scientists said on Nov 28, 2018, they planned to grow coral larvae from the harvested eggs and return these to areas of the reef which have been badly damaged by climate-related coral bleaching.

Hughes said that under normal conditions, it would take about 10 years for coral recruitment to bounce back.

In fact, the latest paper is not the only one to suggest that the ability of the Great Barrier Reef's corals to recover has been disrupted.

It is reassuring there is at least some new coral recruitment in the aftermath of severe bleaching and mass mortality of adult corals on the GBR. Not only have ocean heat waves led to a dramatic decrease in new coral, but also a change in the types of coral species being produced.

The IPCC report released past year stated that if the global surface temperature is permitted to rise by 2C, 99 percent of coral reefs across the globe will perish. There were much more moderate declines in coral recruitment in the southern GBR, reflecting generally higher abundance of adults corals in these areas. Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, 81% are characterized as "severely bleached".

"Dead corals don't make babies", said lead author Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (JCU). "Between the north and southern tip, that's a distance of 2,897 kilometres". "It's more than an alarm bell", said Veron.

"The sun was really exposing the corals and this heat for months on end as they didn't have any cloud cover to help shade and protect the corals". This algae provides food to each coral polyp. They respond by expelling the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. The first was in 1998 and the second in 2002. Deadly back-to-back bleaching events devastated the reef, and now its ecosystem is struggling to recover. "That change is already underway", Hughes said. "And unlucky to have no gap after 2016".

Global warming has caused such extensive damage to the Great Barrier Reef that scientists say its coral may never recover.

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"It's like getting hit by a serious disease every couple of years, or at such short intervals that you don't have time to recover in between", study author and marine biologist Julia Baum told National Geographic at the time.

The researchers found that following the bleaching events, brooding coral can establish itself more successfully and become the dominant species due to their shorter settling time, which dramatically changes the diversity of the reef.

The report highlights the plight of corals in a warming world.

"So we're going back to the need to reduce our carbon emissions and carbon footprint and then look at maybe small-scale projects for small-scale reefs", she said. "But already we're seeing the shifts that are occurring with one degree of warming".

"People shouldn't be too anxious that we are going to lose all our reefs because I think that we are going to fix the problem before that becomes a possibility".

Most corals reproduce by "spawning": releasing thousands of tight, buoyant bundles with remarkable synchronisation. Recruitment for that species declined by 93 percent.

The biggest decline in young coral numbers occurred in the dominant branching and table corals, called Acropora, that are key to the reef's structure.

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