Canberra, Australia, 11 May (ONA) —- More than 90% of Great Barrier Reef coral surveyed this year was bleached in the fourth such mass event in seven years in the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, Australian government scientists said.
Bleaching is caused by global warming, but this is the reef’s first bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern, which is associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority said in its annual report released recently that found 91% of the areas surveyed were affected.
Bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of the coral in the famed reef off Australia’s eastern coast.
Last December 2021, the first month of the Southern Hemisphere summer, was the hottest December the reef had experienced since 1900. A “marine heatwave” had set in by late February, the report said.
A United Nations (UN) delegation visited the reef in March 2022 to assess whether the reef’s World Heritage listing should be downgraded due to the ravages of climate change.
In July last year, Australia garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, to downgrade the reef’s World Heritage status to “in danger“ because of damage caused by climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef accounts for around 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems and was named because of the extensive hazards it posed to 18th century seafarers. The network of more than 2,500 reefs covers 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles).
Coral is made up of tiny animals called polyps that are fed by microscopic algae that live inside the reefs and are sensitive to changes in water temperatures.
The algae provide the reefs with their kaleidoscope of colors and produce sugars through photosynthesis that provide the coral with most of its nutrients.
Rising ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that the algae produce into toxins. The coral turns white as it effectively spits the poisonous algae out.