New corals in the Great Barrier Reef on the decline after back-to-back bleaching

"We've gotten to the point now where local solutions for the reef are almost pointless – the only thing that matters is action on climate change."

Image Credit: Richard Vevers/Flickr

Dead coral doesn’t reproduce. That was the stark truth published in Nature, the international journal of science, on Wednesday.

The death of corals in 2016 and 2017 “significantly decreased the ability of new corals to grow and thrive,” EcoWatch reported. Back-to-back coral bleaching those years caused damage to more than two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia impacting the health of the reef.

“We thought the Barrier Reef was too big to fail, but it’s not,” Andrew Baird, chief investigator at ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia said.

According to researchers from ARC, they concluded that in 2018 new coral growth was down 89 percent compared to the historic record – the first time they have observed such a decline.

“The collapse in stock–recruitment relationships indicates that the low resistance of adult brood stocks to repeated episodes of coral bleaching is inexorably tied to an impaired capacity for recovery, which highlights the multifaceted processes that underlie the global decline of coral reefs,” the report read.

Bleaching of the coral, which “occurs when warm water forces corals to expel the algae that gives them color and nutrients,” EcoWatch reported, caused the collapse of an ocean ecosystem – the first of its observation. Since 1998, the Great Barrier Reef has encountered four such event, but has recovered from them all.

“We’ve always anticipated that climate change would shift the mix of coral,” Terry Hughes, lead author and James Cook University professor, said. “What’s surprised us is how quickly that is now happening. It’s not happening in the future. It’s something that we’re now measuring.”

While some coral is impacted more than others, the 2016 bleaching event proved that “corals that survived the 2016 bleaching event were also better able to withstand the event in 2017,” EcoWatch reported. So there is hope that the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem will survive such events, but only if climate change is addressed as a whole.

“We’ve gotten to the point now where local solutions for the reef are almost pointless – the only thing that matters is action on climate change,” Baird said.


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