Almost 20 per cent of North Queensland reefs show coral bleaching

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Bright coral from Fiji. Photo: Cat Holloway / WWF

Increased coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is proof that climate change is real, Queensland Environment Minister Stephen Miles.

Dr Miles said while the extent of coral bleaching was not yet as broad as in 1998, 2002 or 2006, it was proof that climate change – and warming oceans – was real.

“Events like this serve as a wake-up call for everyone that climate change is real and affecting us now.

Branching coral exposed at low tide. Recent surveys show 19 per cent of north Queensland reefs show evidence of "coral ...Branching coral exposed at low tide. Recent surveys show 19 per cent of north Queensland reefs show evidence of “coral bleaching.” Photo: Phil Tucak

“Increased ocean temperatures due to climate change together with the warming effects of a strong El Nino have created the conditions causing coral bleaching in reefs around this summer,” he said.

“The good news is that corals are highly resilient, and bleached reefs can recover if temperature stress is mild and not sustained for too long.”

A $5 million floating laboratory in the Great Barrier Reef – funded by the state and federal governments – shows 19 per cent of Queensland’s northern Great Barrier Reef suffers coral bleaching.

Bleached corals in the southern Great Barrier Reef.Bleached corals in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Bloomberg

The 24-metre Reef Ranger, launched in July 2014, has completed more than 500 surveys in six months on 60 Queensland coral reefs.

“This summer, rangers on Reef Ranger contributed towards more than 514 surveys on 60 reefs,” Dr Miles said.

“In 19 percent of the surveys they saw coral bleaching,” he said.

World Science Festival Brisbane 2016. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle meets Environment Minister Steven Miles.World Science Festival Brisbane 2016. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle meets Environment Minister Steven Miles. Photo: Jade Horrobin

“The most affected corals were inshore and on the reef flats, which are more susceptible to bleaching.

That has prompted further tests in the northern Great Barrier Reef, Dr Miles said.

“Further reef health impact surveys are programmed through March and April to ensure we have the best possible scientific information about the health of the reef,” he said.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on Monday raised its level of warning over the extent of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

In some areas the coral bleaching – triggered by warmer sea waters – is severe, while it is moderate across the majority of the Great Barrier Reef.

Lizard Island, north of Cairns, is site worst-affected by coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in summer 2016.

Dr Miles said the authority’s warnings showed while some coral bleaching on the inner reefs was severe, coral bleaching was “moderate” overall.

“We’re now at level two – localised severe bleaching or moderate bleaching at a regional level,” he said.

“While bleaching is occurring in a number of areas, particularly in the very north of the Reef, it’s encouraging that many sites remain in good health.”

“We’re not out of the woods and I hope we will not see any broad-scale bleaching events like those that endangered the Reef in 1998 and 2002. and  Reef in 2006.

Conservation groups said governments needed to take the warnings from nature.

Imogen Zethoven, the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Great Barrier Reef campaign director said the federal government needed to take its share of responsibility.

“In the last few weeks we’ve seen outbreaks of coral bleaching around Lizard Island, Low Isles near Port Douglas and reports of bleaching in Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York Peninsula,” she said.

“All Australians will be alarmed to hear that the Reef is being put under increased pressure because of global warming.”

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