Since 2016, Half of All Coral In the Great Barrier Reef Has Died

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, reports that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 2016. The authors inspected every one of its reefs, surveying them on an almost species-by-species basis, and found the damage to be widespread across the entire ecosystem. “Two of its most recognizable creatures — the amber-colored staghorn corals, and the flat, fanlike tabular corals — suffered the worst casualties,” reports The Atlantic. From the report: “On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months,” said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian government’s federal research program devoted to corals. “You could say [the ecosystem] has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn’t say that’s wrong,” Hughes said. “A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago.”

In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef’s middle third. Hughes and his team have not published a peer-reviewed paper on that event, but he shared early survey results with me. Combined, he said, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead. What caused the devastation? Hughes was clear: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world’s average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

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