Images of new bleaching on Great Barrier Reef heighten fears of coral death

Exclusive: Coral bleaching found near Palm Island as unusually warm waters are expected off eastern Australia, with areas hit in last year’s event in mortal danger
Elle Hunt The Guardian 19 Feb 17;

The embattled Great Barrier Reef could face yet more severe coral bleaching in the coming month, with areas badly hit by last year’s event at risk of death.

Images taken by local divers last week and shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Australian Marine Conservation Society show newly bleached corals discovered near Palm Island.

Most of the Great Barrier Reef has been placed on red alert for coral bleaching for the coming month by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its satellite thermal maps have projected unusually warm waters off eastern Australia after an extreme heatwave just over a week ago saw land temperatures reach above 47C in parts of the country.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sea surface temperatures from Cape Tribulation to Townsville have been up to 2C higher than normal for the time of year for more than a month.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s forecast for the next four weeks has placed an even higher level alert on parts of the far northern, northern and central reef, indicating mortality is likely.

Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and parts of the far northern reef that were badly hit by last year’s mass bleaching event are at fatal risk.

Imogen Zethoven, the Great Barrier Reef’s campaign director for the AMCS, said the projections for the next four weeks, plus evidence of new coral bleaching, were “extremely concerning”.

The bleaching that occurred over eight to nine months of last year was the worst-ever on record for the Great Barrier Reef, with as much as 85% of coral between Cape York and Lizard Island dying. Twenty-two per cent of corals over the entire reef are dead.

Zethoven pointed to projections by NOAA that severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would occur annually by 2043 if nothing was done to reduce emissions.

“The reef will be gone before annual severe bleaching,” she said. “It won’t survive even biennial bleaching.”

The $1bn reef fund announced by the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in June last year was a “cynical rebadging exercise” undercut by its support for fossil fuel initiatives such as Adani’s Carmicheal coalmine “that will spell catastrophe for the reef”, Zethoven said.

“There’s no doubt about that anymore,” she said. “They know what they are doing and they should come clean with the Australian public that they have no interest in the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef.

“To the average person on the street, that’s what it looks like. And if the government thinks that’s not the case, they’re out of touch.”

In December last year the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund granted Adani “conditional approval” to $1bn loan for its Carmicheal coalmine and rail project in central Queensland, which could produce 60m tons of coal annually for 60 years.

Warmer ocean temperatures brought about by climate change is a key factor in coral bleaching. Polling suggests that more than two-thirds of Australians believe the reef’s condition should be declared a national emergency.

Zethoven said the government had made “a very deliberate decision to go down the coal road”, despite it jeopardising the reef’s future prospects as well as the 70,000 jobs in regional Queensland that depend on it.

John Rumney, a diving operator based in Port Douglas, said the “commercial advantage” to saving the reef went beyond jobs. Much of coastal Queensland was “majorly invested” in reef tourism, he said.

The federal government’s measures to save the reef were hypocrisy and lip service, he said, when it was simultaneously “actively supporting the cause of the cancer – the worst cause”.

“It’s immoral that those of us who are making our living from a healthy environment are paying taxes to subsidise infrastructure that’s going to cause climate change in a major way for the next 50 years,” he said. “If this all goes ahead, we’re basically dooming our tourism industry.”

Rumney said he had seen new and extensive bleaching of corals from Cairns to Townsville.

“There are definite large areas of mortality. It’s just the next depressing moment. Before, the reef has bleached and recovered but now we’re talking about how often is it bleaching and what percentage is left.”

Areas that suffered in last year’s event were now less resilient and there seemed to be less coral strong enough to spawn.

Climate change-induced mass bleaching increasingly resembled a catastrophe the reef would be unable to recover from, he said.

“It’s weaker, just like humans,” Rumney said. “If you’re already down and out with a cold or cancer, you’re less resilient – the next thing that comes along is going to knock you back more.

“It’s the continual onslaught that will eventually kill the reef.”


Coral bleaching again reported off Cairns
Dominic Geiger, The Cairns Post 21 Feb 17;

CORAL bleaching is being reported from some of the most visited reefs off Cairns for the second time in as many years.

Film maker and James Cook University researcher Richard Fitzpatrick said bleaching had been detected at Michaelmas Cay, Green Island, Upolu Reef, Batt Reef, and Vlasoff Cay.

He said that included locations filmed for David Attenborough’s recent documentary series Great Barrier Reef.

“We have reported it to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and they have told us they have bleaching reports all the way to the Whitsundays,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The reef from Cairns south managed to escape the more severe bleaching during last year’s event, while the region off Port Douglas to the Torres Strait suffered heavy coral die off.

While the bleached reefs are not yet dead, Mr Fitzpatrick said it was a “wake up call” for people from all parts of the world to take action on climate change.

“The only way to combat climate change, at the moment Australia is having a debate over renewable energy, but there should be no debate, we should be making the change now,” he said.

GBRMPA is expected to issue a statement on the new bleaching event later today.


New photos reveal fresh bleaching at beleaguered Great Barrier Reef
Gavin Haines The Telegraph 20 Feb 17;

A heatwave that has brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of Australia – leading to bush fires, power outages and a rise in deaths from heat stress – could have a devastating effect on the Great Barrier Reef.

Though the mercury is set to drop this week, scientists fear the extreme weather event could place stress on the underwater ecosystem, which is still reeling from the worst bleaching events in its history.

Bleaching happens when corals become stressed by high water temperatures, which happened on a massive scale in 2016 when an underwater heatwave ravaged the 1,500-mile reef.

Scientists claim 93 per cent of the reef was affected last year and that 22 per cent of its coral had died as a result. The same scientists now fear the reef could come under attack once again as parts of Australia bake in temperatures exceeding 47C.

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), which has published photographs of its findings, newly bleached corals were discovered last week near Townsville, Queensland and around the Whitsundays.

The waters off eastern Australia are unusually warm for this time of the year, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has placed vast swathes of the Great Barrier Reef on red alert (Alert Level 1) for the next four weeks, meaning coral bleaching is likely.

Parts of the far northern, northern and central reef have been placed on Alert Level 2, indicating mortality is likely. Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and in parts of the far northern reef, that were badly hit last year, are at mortal risk.

“Signs of new coral bleaching in February, plus the likelihood of extensive severe bleaching and even mortality in the next four weeks, is extremely concerning,” said Imogen Zethoven of AMCS.

“Last year we witnessed the worst bleaching event on record for our reef. Over the entire reef, 22 per cent of corals are dead.”

Around 1.9 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef annually, contributing A$5.6 billion (£2.7billion) to the local economy and supporting 69,000 jobs. However, Australia’s biggest tourism asset appears to be in grave danger due to climate change, which campaigners claim is being exacerbated by the Australian coal industry.

“The government must stop special treatment for the coal industry,” warned Zethoven. “Climate change will be catastrophic for our reef unless we urgently move to cut pollution. We cannot afford to risk such a valuable national treasure.”

In 2016, Telegraph Travel reported how many of the sites used to film the series, Great Barrier Reef, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, had succumbed to coral bleaching.

“We actually went out to the same locations where we filmed a lot of David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef series and found significant bleaching over many, many species,” said cameraman and marine biologist, Richard Fitzpatrick. “It was pretty shocking.”

In the hit BBC series, Sir David forewarned about the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef, which in 2015 was spared a place on Unesco’s list of endangered heritage sites.

“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger,” said the television naturalist. “The twin perils brought by climate change – an increase in the temperature of the ocean and its acidity – threaten its very existence. If they continue to rise at the present rate, the reef will be gone in decades and that would be a global catastrophe.”

Should I cancel my dive holiday?

Despite the bleak outlook, some dive sites are holding up well.

“A lot of the live-aboard sites are on the edge of the reef, and are flushed by oceanic currents, so they are actually probably the most resilient parts of the reef,” said Fitzpatrick.

Rather than abandoning trips to the Great Barrier Reef, according to reef naturalist, Paul O’Dowd, tourists should consider visiting sooner rather than later.

“My advice to anyone wishing to see the reef is that they get over in the near future not the far,” he said. “It is still spectacular, in many ways, and any reputable operator will have a few relatively unscathed sites on their mooring portfolio.

“You will still see scores of brilliantly coloured fish. However, the issue of whether we have anything to show in a decade, after potentially more bleaching events, is less positive.”

No comments:

Post a Comment