The Great Barrier Reef has been gently murdered by global warming for decades now – but a new helicopter survey by the body that monitors it has shown that things have got much, much worse in the last year alone.
Several huge sections of the reef have bleached themselves – forced by unusually hot water to expel their life-giving algae and calcify, turning white – two years in a row for the first time.
“The coral is essentially cooked,” Andrew Baird, a researcher at James Cook University, told Reuters, adding that it was "almost certainly" the largest ever recorded die-off.
“This is the fourth time the Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely – in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals, but in the severe central region we anticipate high levels of coral loss,” added reef researcher Dr James Kerry.
The 2017 bleaching is especially significant, however, because “it takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016”.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world, a 1,400-mile ecosystem covering 133,000 square miles on Australia’s east coast. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which made it a world heritage site in 1981, declined to put it on "in danger" list last May, but the Australian government is due to update it on the reef’s status this Friday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised AUS$1 billion to help protect the reef last June, but scientists are expecting more bleaching events, and that means there’s plenty more die-off to come.
This year’s aerial surveys covered more than 5,000 miles and scoured nearly 800 individual coral reefs. In 2016, most of the top third of the reef was found to have bleached. This time around, it has been joined by the middle section, but the southern third is still healthy for now. In some parts, up to 83 per cent of the coral could be dead.
And to add insult to injury, Tropical Cyclone Debbie caused considerable damage to a 100km stretch of the healthy part of the reed at the end of March.
Still, at least we’ve got all those massive cars, useless trinkets and needless possessions eh?