News Great Barrier Reef damage entering ‘uncharted territory’

Great Barrier Reef damage entering ‘uncharted territory’

Bleached coral Great Barrier Reef
A diver inspects dead coral, another symptom of the Great Barrier Reef's environmental degradation. Photo: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey
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The health of the Great Barrier Reef has entered “uncharted territory” after researchers found that for the first time there had been mass coral bleaching for two summers in a row.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and its partners took to the skies for six hours on Thursday to conduct aerial surveys of water between Cairns and Townsville.

Dr Neal Cantin from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said the level of bleaching observed was the result of a one-degree temperature increase during a “typical summer”.

“This is the first time we have ever seen bleaching in back-to-back summers,” he said on Friday.

“We are now entering uncharted territory.”

Dr Cantin said the latest findings served as a “strong warning” that more needed to be done to slow the rate of global warming.

“We are on target to be two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half degrees warmer by the end of the century, which is not a good target for our reefs,” he said.

“We are extremely concerned moving into the future.”

GBRMPA reef recovery director Dr David Wachenfeld said the reef was “under severe pressure” but reports it was dead were inaccurate.

“The reef is under pressure and is in a state of decline because of climate change,” he said.

“But there are still areas that are in great condition. It is still a great tourism asset.”

Dr Wachenfeld said it was important to remember the Great Barrier Reef was bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined and it was doing what it could to repair itself.

But he said it needed help and “strong global action” by all countries was needed to constrain increasing temperatures to “well below two degrees”.

World Wildlife Fund Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said in a statement climate change had “knocked the reef to its knees and now it is kicking it in the guts”.

Mr Leck called on the federal government to speed up its transition to solar and wind energy use by setting a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2035.

The GBRMPA and its partners will spend the coming weeks surveying the reef.

Dr Cantin said the “extent and severity” of this year’s bleaching would not be known for another month.


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