CANBERRA – More than 90% of the Great Barrier Reef corals surveyed this year were bleached in the fourth such mass event in seven years in the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, Australian government scientists have said.
The bleaching is being caused by global warming, but this is the reef’s first bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern associated with cooler temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority said in its annual report released late Tuesday, the 91% of the examined areas were affected.
Bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of the coral on the famous reef off Australia’s east coast.
Coral bleaching in response to heat stress and scientists hope most corals will recover from the current event, said David Wachenfeld, chief scientist for the agency that manages the reef ecosystem.
“Early indications are that mortality will not be very high,” Wachenfeld told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday.
“We’re hoping that most of the bleached corals will recover and we’ll end up with an event more like 2020 when there was mass bleaching but mortality was low,” Wachenfeld added.
The bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 resulted in “pretty high coral mortality,” Wachenfeld said.
Last December, the first month of summer in the southern hemisphere, was the hottest December the reef had seen since 1900. At the end of February, a “sea heat wave” set in, the report says.
A United Nations delegation visited the reef in March to assess whether the reef’s World Heritage List should be downgraded due to the ravages of climate change.
In July last year, Australia received enough international support to delay an attempt by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural body, to downgrade the reef to ‘endangered’ as a World Heritage Site due to damage caused by climate change.
But the question will be back on the agenda of the World Heritage Committee at its annual meeting next month.
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