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Scientists have reported immense coral decline in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the largest coral reef system in the world.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) published a report on the GBR’s current condition as part of the reef’s long-term monitoring program. The report pointed out that the reef’s health has significantly deteriorated over the past two years.
Particularly, the amount of living corals covering the reef has considerably declined. The GBR’s northern and central regions had lost around half of their coral cover. Likewise, the corals in the southern region decreased from 33% to 25%.
According to the report, one of the main reasons behind the decline is consecutive coral bleaching events in the reef. Bleaching occurs when levels in temperature or nutrients around corals become unsteady. As a result, corals become completely white. While corals can recover from bleaching, unfavorable conditions around them can cause them to perish.
The researchers noted that this was the first time large-scale bleaching events in the GBR had occurred in consecutive years. They expect that the outgrowths of climate change, such as warmer oceans, will make bleaching events more frequent and more severe. Thus, they fear that the GBR may not recover fast enough.
A marine scientist from AIMS called on the Australian government to consider the GBR’s condition as a national crisis. She urged the government to protect the reef—along with the 64,000 jobs it supports—from further damage.
The GBR contributes about $6.4 billion to Australia’s economy through fishery, recreation, and tourism. It serves important functions such as protecting coastlines from destructive waves and storms. Additionally, it houses marine life and provides them with nutrients.