experiencing the worst coral die-off on record as more than 43 miles of the reef located in the northern region is dying due to coral bleaching. The southern region of the reef experienced only a one percent mortality rate due to Cyclone Winston in February that lowered the temperature slightly. The damage, however, is far more extensive than was originally believed.
Due to various reasons, the water temperature has increased in areas where the 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef exists, causing coral bleaching. And in some instances, an immediate “cooking” of the coral happens.
Coral reefs have a direct impact on the environment and the economy. They protect the shorelines while creating diverse marine life as 25 percent of marine species find shelter in the coral. Coral reefs support the fishing industry as well as tourism. Some experts believe coral reefs could hold the answer to medical breakthroughs.
What are the causes for the worst coral die-off to the Great Barrier Reef ever seen? The following gives you a glimpse of what is happening and how you can help prevent coral bleaching.
What is causing the coral reef to die?
The coral within the Great Barrier Reef are dying due to several factors. The largest of these is climate change from global warming. When the ocean water temperature increases, the coral becomes an inhospitable habitat for the tiny algae that normally have a symbiotic relationship with the coral reef. Unless the temperature drops and the coral cools, the algae cannot return to the coral and eventually the reef dies.
In the meantime, the coral loses its color and takes on a white appearance, known as coral bleaching. Experts determine that the coral reef mortality rate from coral bleaching is above the initial estimate of 22 percent.
Other reasons for coral death include disease, pollution from chemicals and agricultural run-off and changes in the sedimentation from ocean floor disturbances, such as dredging. If the water temperature increases too much, the coral cooks and immediately dies.
What are the current prevention initiatives to save the coral reef?
The NOAA Satellite and Information Service manage the Coral Reef Watch (CRW) program. The program collects reports from partners and organizations around the globe to gain accurate information about the current status of coral reefs. You can learn more about the protocols for monitoring coral bleaching by visiting CRW’s website, including the ReefBase Global Bleaching Protocol from the Great Barrier Reef Authority and partners.
There are several community-based programs that measure coral bleaching and send the reports to the CRW, as well as other interested organizations. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority coordinates with the community and reef managers to monitor the coral reef. Parts of the Great Barrier Reef are harder to investigate and monitor, so the use of specialized equipment is critical. Underwater cameras survey tight crevices and collect data from sensors and equipment, so scientists and researchers can keep current on the status of the coral reef.
Using dive surveys, scientists learned that although 67 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from coral bleaching in the last nine months, the coral located in the southern region are regaining its vibrant color due to cooler temperatures and the return of algae. CRW reports that it may take as many as 15 years for the coral to reestablish to previous levels as long as the Great Barrier Reef does not experience a fourth and fifth devastating coral bleaching.
How you can help save the Great Barrier Reef
Whether you live in Australia or elsewhere on the globe, you can help salvage the Great Barrier Reef, so the coral has time to reestablish its relationship with the tiny algae in the ocean and grow back to its previous level.
You can help by participating in community-based monitoring programs and convincing your family and friends to reduce their carbon footprint. You can reduce your overall use of fossil fuels. You can also support comprehensive climate legislation and ask your government officials to participate. Continue fighting for the environment and the Great Barrier Reef!
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys discussing scientific discoveries and exploring the world around her. Follow her on twitter @nicholsrmegan