Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 17

People’s Expedition to Experience Peat in May
People's Movement to Stop Haze

Beting Bemban Besar
Offshore Singapore

Conservation of Giant Clams – Part 2
Neo Mei Lin

Seawater desalination: issues that you don't read about in the papers
Water Quality in Singapore

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Robot kayak joins fight against algae

Dr Sandric Leong and his team from the Tropical Marine Science Institute are using technology to track and monitor algae with higher efficiency. They use a machine which can identify the algae species within a few hours, instead of days.
Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Mar 17;

If you chance upon an empty canoe moving by itself off Seletar Island, do not be alarmed.

The yellow robot kayak roaming the Strait of Johor looking for signs of trouble is the latest weapon in the war against killer algae.

It is armed with sensors that measure water temperature, salinity and chlorophyll, among other things.

Scientists are using it to monitor waters for harmful algal blooms which have killed fish and marine life en masse here in the past.

Scientists simply programme the robot to survey a designated area and collect data in real time that can then be used to map out patches of algae so scientists know how they are spreading.

Since 2010, scientists from the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modelling (Censam), have been harnessing advanced technologies to monitor environmental stressors, including algal blooms.

The project is funded by the National Research Foundation.

"The sea, as a research field, is a very challenging environment to collect data. Autonomous fleet of vehicles are able to collect relatively more data, more accurately as opposed to traditional methods," said Mr Tawfiq Taher, a senior research manager at Smart Censam.

"Due to the harsh nature of the sea, the robots are required to be robust and resilient to the extreme weather conditions."

Local fish farms here have been badly hit by algal blooms in recent years. Just two years ago, 77 farms were affected by the blooms which wiped out 500 to 600 tonnes of fish - about one-tenth of local farms' yearly produce that year .

There are 118 Singapore coastal fish farms in the East and West Johor Strait, and the southern waters, where most rear fish in net cages in the sea. There are another seven fish farms on land.

Last year, the farms produced about 5,000 tonnes of fish, accounting for about 10 per cent of the fish eaten here.

Dr Sandric Leong, a senior research fellow with TMSI who is co-leading the project, noted that algal blooms are linked to many factors, including slower or warmer water, high nutrient levels and discharge from land agriculture.

"Advanced technologies assist in finding the blooms which are still in the early development stage so that the public can be alerted," he said.

Dr Leong and his TMSI team are also using other technologies to help track and detect algal blooms with greater efficiency.

They include a machine which can identify algae species in a few hours instead of days.

An underwater camera is also able to operate at depths of up to 2km, to capture images of algae lurking deep in the sea.

National water agency PUB is also using technology to monitor reservoirs and waterways. It has developed a life-sized robot swan, with the NUS Environmental Research Institute and TMSI, to measure chlorophyll levels and water quality in reservoirs.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said it monitors the water quality around the nation's fish farming areas.

"The use of autonomous surface vehicles (ASV) is relatively new in Singapore but such technologies can help to complement AVA's monitoring efforts," added a spokesman.

"On some occasions, we have tapped on the water quality data from NUS' ASV trials to assist in our assessment of water quality in the East Johor Strait."

Harmful algae in nearby waters

There are 270 known algae species found in coastal waters off Singapore. Here are some:


Commonly found in the Johor Strait, it has toxic compounds that are known to cause massive fish kills during blooms.

During the mass fish death in 2015, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore found elevated levels of Karlodinium veneficum in seawater samples.


The genus consists of more than 40 species and a third of them are toxic.

Four Alexandrium species occur in Singapore waters. One produces a toxic compound that kills young sea bass and seahorses, while another causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can be fatal.


This genus is known to have 12 species and can release toxins into the environment as aerosols, which can cause respiratory problems in humans.

Recreational beaches have been forced to close due to blooms caused by such species.

Eating shellfish contaminated with the algae may also result in neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, which causes headaches and aching muscles, among others.

An undetermined species was observed in the Singapore Strait in a study published last year.

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First Zika cluster of 2017 reported in Hougang

Today Online 29 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Some three months after the Zika transmission in Singapore tapered off, two members of the same household at Simon Place have been found to have contracted the Zika virus, making the area in Hougang the first Zika cluster to be reported this year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday (March 29) that it was notified of the cluster on Tuesday.

That afternoon, the NEA started vector control operations and outreach activities, such as distributing information leaflets and insect repellents to households, at the cluster.

Ten mosquito breeding habitats — seven in homes and three in other premises — were detected and destroyed. By Wednesday, the NEA had inspected about 120 out of some 400 premises in the Simon Place cluster for mosquito breeding. It also conducted ground checks in the area.

Singapore had its first locally transmitted case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in August last year. The virus is known to cause abnormally small heads in babies whose mothers were infected while pregnant — a condition called microcephaly.

Around mid-October, the NEA said that the first and largest locally transmitted Zika cluster at the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive area, which had seen nearly 300 cases since August, had been closed.

By December, the number of Zika cases had tapered off.

Several residents at Simon Place told TODAY that they were concerned about the Zika cluster in the area.

Financial services consultant Patrick Lim, 55, said: “All my neighbours are worried. We have started precautions only now, since we got to know of this. We usually check for mosquitoes , but we are concerned that NEA hasn’t done enough for the common areas.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Mr Brendan Goh, 21, who is doing his National Service, said: “I’m quite surprised, it is worrying. We haven’t been taking precautions, except for the usual, such as checking for stagnant water. This area has a lot of dengue cases though, especially in recent years.”

Residents told TODAY that they had received a letter from the NEA informing them that there will be thermal fogging done today, between 9am and 12.30pm.

The areas to be fogged are Kang Choo Bin Road, Poh Huat Road, Da Silva Lane, Simon Lane, Simon Place and Florence Road, according to the letter.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Leong Hoe Nam attributed the new Zika cases to a rise in temperatures.

“Dengue cases would be rising or have risen, and the seasonal dengue period is coming. And Zika parallels dengue,” he told TODAY.

He added that Singapore had taken the right steps during the Zika outbreak last year, and the usual measures should be continued.

“The numbers are small ... we aren’t seeing as many cases as I expected. This means Singapore is doing something right,” Dr Leong added.

The NEA on Wednesday urged residents to allow its officers to carry out inspections and indoor spraying of their homes if required.

“Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected. With the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here, everyone must therefore continue to maintain vigilance and play his part to prevent future localised transmission through eradicating mosquito breeding habitats in our neighbourhoods,” it said.

Singapore's first Zika cluster of 2017 reported at Simon Place
Channel NewsAsia 29 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Two cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infections have been confirmed at Simon Place in Hougang, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday (Mar 29).

This is the first Zika cluster reported in Singapore this year.

Both cases are residents from the same household, NEA added in a media release.

The Zika cluster was confirmed on Tuesday and vector control operations are being carried out in the area.

“As of Mar 29, NEA has inspected about 120 premises out of about 400 premises in the Simon Place cluster to check for mosquito breeding and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity," said the agency.

"Ten breeding habitats - comprising seven in homes and three in common areas/other premises - have been detected and destroyed."

NEA added that it has carried out indoor spraying of insecticides, as well as thermal fogging and misting in the outdoor areas. In addition, outreach efforts are being conducted by NEA officers and grassroots volunteers in the area to distribute Zika information leaflets and insect repellent to households.

NEA also urged residents to allow officers to carry out inspections and indoor spraying of residents' homes if required.

"Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected. With the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here, everyone must therefore continue to maintain vigilance and play his part to prevent future localised transmission through eradicating mosquito breeding habitats in our neighbourhoods," said NEA.

Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim also urged residents to cooperate with NEA's operations. "I urge all residents to cooperate fully and to exercise personal vigilance to prevent the spread of Zika, including using repellent and preventing breeding," the Aljunied GRC MP wrote on her Facebook page.

Singapore’s first confirmed locally transmitted case of Zika was first announced on Aug 26, 2016. As of Dec 21, 2016, 17 pregnant women were confirmed to have contracted Zika. The disease has been linked to microcephaly in other countries.

- CNA/ek

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Malaysia: Sabah wildlife rescuers save injured sun bear

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 29 Mar 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife rangers helped save a sun bear that was injured by a poacher's snare within the fully protected Maliau Basin forest conservation area.

The rangers were alerted by conservation officers, who spotted the injured bear roaming around the Maliau Basin Studies Centre on March 25.

The Sabah Wildlife Department rescue unit’s quick response team and Maliau Basin officers rushed to the area and launched a search through the night before spotting the bear within the forest area.

They managed to tranquilise the injured sun bear.

Rescue unit acting manager Dr Diana Ramirez said Wednesday that the sun bear was found to have a severely infected injury on its back, most probably caused by a sharp pointed object, likely to be a spear (known locally as bujak), and a deep wound from a snare trap with the nylon rope still strangulating its right forelimb.

She said the animal has been brought to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near Kota Kinabalu where it is being treated.

Borneo Sun Bear Conservation director Wong Siew Ti expressed concern over the poaching of animals within the world-renowned Maliau Basin.

“Poaching poses a threat not only to sun bears but other endangered wildlife. We have to improve our security in such areas because such snares will eventually wipe out the many protected species in our forests,” he said.

He said the snare traps could have been set for smaller animals, including wild boar, but many other animals including elephants could be injured, sometimes seriously.

Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said it is important for all to join forces to increase enforcement in Sabah’s forests to reduce poaching in protected areas.

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Malaysia: Health Ministry releases Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Keramat

Bernama New Straits Times 29 Mar 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry yesterday released mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia micro-organism at dengue hot spots in AU2 in Keramat here.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the new method in preventing the spread of dengue is being conducted by the Institute for Medical Research to replace the population of wild Aedes mosquitoes.

"A total of 16,000 male and female Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes were released at 300 dengue hotspots in Keramat AU2 areas," he said in a statement.

Subramaniam said various anti-dengue activities involving residents are also being intensified in Section 7, Shah Alam, Selangor, before Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes will be deployed there.

He added that the deployment of such mosquitoes, monitored by IMR, will take place on a weekly basis, until 60 per cent of the population of wild Aedes mosquitoes in Keramat are replaced with the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes.

He said studies have shown that Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes could prevent the spread of the dengue virus among humans.

The Wolbachia technique, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the latest method being applied by countries such as Australia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore.

For detailed information on the method being carried out by the Health Ministry, members of the public can log on to -- Bernama

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Indonesia: Fatal floods blamed on deforestation

Apriadi Gunawan, Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Panca Nugraha The Jakarta Post 29 Mar 17;

Rampant illegal logging and the conversion of protected forests around the upstream area of the Batang Ayumi River are being blamed for flash floods that left five people dead in Padang Sidempuan regency, North Sumatra.

The director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) in North Sumatra, Dana Prima Tarigan, said protected forests in Marancar, South Tapanuli regency, were in a critical condition because of illegal logging and land-conversion activities.

As a result the barren land can no longer accommodate a high water debit during heavy downpours, quite apart from the poor condition of the Batang Ayumi River caused by sedimentation.

“That’s why the flash floods hit people’s houses along with mud and logs,” Dana told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Dana said flash flooding triggered by forest damage was very dangerous because it was usually accompanied by mud and logs capable of devastating a village and dragging victims to their death.

Five people were reported to have died in the flash floods on Sunday while four others were injured. The floods hit five subdistricts in Padang Sidempuan, with Batunadua Julu the worst hit. The financial cost of the floods was estimated at Rp 4.5 billion (US$338,300).

Dana blamed local administrations for not providing people with warnings during heavy rains, especially considering the critical condition of the forests in the upstream area.

Syamsir, 32, of Lubuk Raya subdistrict said the flash floods hit his region at 7 p.m. on Sunday, following heavy rain since 5 p.m. the same day. “We promptly fled our home. None of our belongings could be saved. Everything was carried away by the flood,” he said.

North Sumatra Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Rina Sari Ginting said her office would set up a special team to investigate the cause of the flash floods in Padang Sidempuan, including the forest damage in the river’s upstream area.

In West Sumatra, hundreds of houses and a number of public facilities in three regions of Sijunjung regency, Solok regency and Solok city were inundated in floodwater up to 1 meter deep on Tuesday following heavy rain since 11 p.m. on Monday.

West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD West Sumatra) emergency and logistic division head R. Pagar Negara said the flood hit five districts in Sijunjung and two each in Solok regency and city.

“No fatalities have been reported so far. The situation is secured and officers from the BPBD, Social Affairs Agency and the Indonesian Red Cross have been deployed to the affected areas,” Pagar said.

Flash floods were also reported to have hit Bima city in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) on Sunday afternoon following heavy downpours over the region.

BPBD West Nusa Tenggara recorded that the flooding affected at least 22 subdistricts in five districts in the city, forcing over 2,500 people to flee their homes.

BPBD West Nusa Tenggara head Muhammad Rum said heavy rain started to fall over the city at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday and stopped only at 11:30 p.m. that night. The high rainfall caused the city’s main rivers of Padolo and Salo to overflow and flooded nearby housing complexes and agricultural land.

“Residents were taken to safer places such as mosques, school buildings and the city hall,” said Rum.

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Fears for Indonesian park's rare species as Trump town rises

Stephen Wright, Associated Press Jakarta Post 29 Mar 17;

Shrouded in mist and cloud, the twin volcanoes of the lushly forested Gunung Gede Pangrango national park are the brooding guardians of nature's last stand on teeming Java island. Indonesia's overflowing, polluted capital is a couple of hours north, and with Trump-branded properties being built next to this protected area, Jakarta may soon feel even closer.

Over the next four years, a sprawling "Trump Community" will be built in this pocket of Indonesia's most densely populated island, with a new road leading to it. It's part of broader plans, including a massive theme park, that have alarmed conservationists who fear development will overwhelm a refuge for some of the archipelago's most threatened species.

The 3,000-hectare (11.6-square-mile) project is the brainchild of President Donald Trump's Indonesian partner, billionaire and presidential hopeful Hary Tanoe.

Gunung Gede Pangrango is one of the last virgin tropical forests in Java, where only 2 percent of original forest remains. It nurtures a dazzling variety of flora and fauna: more than 2,000 species of ferns, mosses and flowering plants and 250 species of birds. Endangered species include the Javan slow loris (the world's only venomous primate), the Javan leaf monkey, the Javan leopard (whose total population numbers less than 250), and the Javan hawk-eagle and Javan silvery gibbon.

The park has a rehabilitation center for silvery gibbons that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. The gibbons, known for practicing lifelong monogamy and their distinctively small, intense faces, number fewer than 4,000 in the wild.

Tanoe's MNC Group will build a six-star Trump hotel along with a golf course, country club, luxury condominiums, mansions and villas. Together with a theme park, hotels, shops, homes and a dining and entertainment district that MNC is developing on its own, this first stage of "Lido City" will occupy between 800 and 1,000 hectares.

A visualization on the company's website shows a valley filled with a man-made lake and a fantastical theme park. Tanoe plans to fill out the remaining 2,000 hectares and has told The Associated Press he wants to expand further.

MNC is also building a toll road that improve access to nearby cities and Jakarta. The Lido City project does not require an environmental impact assessment, though some parts such as the theme park will, according to Tanoe.

Park officials worry construction will cause wildlife to flee and that the mini-city MNC touts as "fulfilling the dream of the people of Indonesia for world-class entertainment" will bring an uncontrollable influx of people and rubbish. They question how the development will meet its substantial water needs in an area that's a crucial catchment for the 30 million people of greater Jakarta.

But nor can they afford to antagonize MNC or the Trump Organization, which will manage the Trump-branded properties. The project is going ahead whether they like it or not and the main access road to the park, which has a controlled 50,000 visitors a year, cuts through MNC's land. The park, which is part of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, has signed a memorandum of understanding with MNC concerning the development of eco-tourism; neither it nor the company would provide a copy.

"We are still discussing with them about how to avoid a massive exodus of wildlife while they are working on construction," said the park chief, Adison, who goes by one name. "Before they start construction we want them to adapt to how the wildlife exists in this national park. You can open your business here but you have to respect your neighbors."

Adison said park officials believe company executives are beginning take conservation more seriously, possibly because the Trump Organization's involvement has given the project a higher profile.

MNC's corporate secretary said its executives were too busy to be interviewed and did not respond to emailed questions about how the company planned to mitigate environmental damage. The Trump Organization redirected questions to a public relations company that did not provide any response.

In a January interview, Tanoe said developing the whole 3,000 hectares will take more than a decade and cost $2 billion to $3 billion. The Trump properties will cost more than $300 million. Getting the construction permits for the first phase was "easy," Tanoe said. The golf course, designed by former world No. 1 golfer Ernie Els, is already under construction.

Tanoe teamed up with the Trump Organization about three years ago; they also plan to redevelop an existing Tanoe hotel and golf course overlooking a sacred temple on the tourist island of Bali into a luxury Trump property.

Elan Juanda, an environmental activist involved with education in the park, said he is "very pessimistic about forest conservation in this region when the project is built."

"It's impossible that their project will not cause damage to the environment as well as changes in the behavior of animals," he said.

More than a decade of camera-trap images show how sensitive wild animals are to human activity, he said. They show wildlife including the Javan leopard in remote parts of the park, but almost never in areas frequented by hikers. Experts also say that construction noise will be stressful for the gibbons at the rehabilitation center.

Though a private development, Lido City suits the Indonesian government's ambitions to create more tourist destinations it hopes will be as popular as Bali. With more than 250 million predominantly young and poor people, Indonesia has a pressing need for jobs.

Anton Ario, a program manager for Conservation International, said the park cannot withstand an influx of people and needs a substantial buffer zone between it and the development, especially the theme park.

Wild gibbons are particularly vulnerable because they are homebodies and rather than move to a new range will stay put and suffer potentially lethal stress, he said.

To be effective, the memorandum of understanding needs to be upgraded to a binding technical agreement, he said. Even then, water use will be a major concern because it will inevitably come at least in part from Gunung Gede Pangrango.

In a broader sense, ongoing development has immense implications because the national park is a crucial water catchment. Jakarta already experiences annual flooding, and degrading the national park could make it much worse, said Ario.

"Honestly I hope they can build a sustainable development," he said. "I really, really hope for that. Because the area is very close and there can be an impact for the environment. Honestly I'm worried about it."

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Food trade drains global water sources at 'alarming' rates

Many of the crops imported and exported from the US are grown with non-sustainable water supplies
Matt McGrath BBC 30 Mar 17;

The global market for foodstuffs is depleting water sources in many parts of the world quicker than they can naturally be refilled.

The complex trade is increasing pressure on non-renewable groundwater, mainly used for irrigating crops such as rice, wheat and cotton.

Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most food grown with unsustainable water.

Researchers say that without action, food supplies with be threatened.

Around 43% of the water used to irrigate crops around the world comes from underground aquifers, as opposed to rivers and lakes. Many of these sources are being used up quicker than they can be refilled from rainfall.

Back in 2000, experts believed that non-renewable resources sustained 20% of global irrigation. In the 10 years to 2010, this increased by more than a fifth.

While scientists have long known about the depletion of groundwater, this new study sets out to understand how supplies are impacted by the booming international trade in food and crops.

The vast majority of the world's populations live in countries that source nearly all their staple crop imports from nations who deplete significant amounts of groundwater to irrigate these foodstuffs.

The researchers found that some 11% of the non-renewable groundwater used for irrigation is embedded in the the global food trade. Two-thirds of this are accounted for by Pakistan, the US and India.

Over the decade from the year 2000, the use of non-renewable groundwater has doubled in China and increased significantly in India and the US. The crops using the biggest amounts of this water are wheat, rice, sugar crops, cotton and maize.

However, the web of responsibility is a complex one.

The US, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China are among the top 10 users of unsustainable water in agriculture. However, they are also among the top importers of crops grown with these dwindling resources.

So, Iran, for example, mainly imports rice from Pakistan irrigated by the Upper Ganges and Lower Indus aquifers. These water sources have extraction rates up to 50 times higher than required for sustainable use. Iran in turn exports perennial crops irrigated by the Persian aquifer that has being extracted at a mere 20 times the rate that is sustainable.

"The depletion rate is alarming - we have these clusters of countries that are at risk both from domestic production and imports," said lead author Dr Carole Dalin from University College London.

"If the reserve of water runs out the price of food will be affected and it will affect almost all the world's population."

Many developed countries are aware of issues in the depletion of groundwater and have put measures in place, such as urban water restrictions in California during the recent years of drought. However, in developing nations, the mechanisms to restrict water may not exist.

"Pakistan for instance is quite complex," said Dr Dalin. "They can make good money out of exporting rice, but the framework is not really there to account for the impact on the environment. It is true that eventually it will affect the production there."

The researchers argue that while governments need to have greater awareness about the impacts of production on water resources, consumers in richer countries should also think about water when considering the foods that they buy.

"The products that consumers buy at a supermarket may have very different environmental impacts depending on where they are produced and how they are irrigated," said co-author Yoshihide Wada, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

"In order to help consumers make more sustainable choices about their food, producers should consider adding water labels that make these impacts clear."

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Cyclone Debbie: Storm likely to add to Great Barrier Reef's woes, scientist says

Peter Hannam Sydney Morning Herald 29 Mar 17;

Cyclone Debbie appears to have added another blow to the Great Barrier Reef, hammering a region that had escaped the worst of the coral bleaching over the past 15 months, a senior researcher says.

The slow-moving category four tropical storm, which crossed the north Queensland coast on Tuesday afternoon, is likely to have left a trail of extensive damage to reefs in its path, much like Cyclone Yasi in 2011, said David Wachenfeld, director of reef recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"The primary concern will be the immediate physical damage in that central part of the storm with high wind speeds," Dr Wachenfeld said. "It's had lots of time for the wave energy to be built up by the winds and for that wave energy to hit the tops of the reefs."

Cyclones can be a mixed blessing for corals. While reefs near the storm's centre can be badly damaged, the tempest can also bring much-needed mixing of relatively hot, stagnant waters.

The rain and subsequent cloud cover can also help relieve the heat stress that causes the bleaching that has hit the Great Barrier Reef for an unprecedented two years in a row.

Cyclone Debbie's arrival, though, has interrupted the aerial surveys the park authority is conducting with James Cook University to determine the extent of this year's bleaching. Another summer of abnormally warm waters prompted many corals to expel the algae that gives them both colour and the bulk of their energy.

"We've got two different styles of extreme weather events delivering different coral impacts - but nonetheless killing corals in two different parts of the reef," Dr Wachenfeld said.

"There is some overlap between them but essentially, each of the three events [the 2016 and 2017 bleaching and Cyclone Debbie] is covering a different large area of the Great Barrier Reef," he said. "The three of them in conjunction will have delivered a really serious impact in just over a year."

Last year's bleaching was worst in the relatively pristine northern third of the reef, with two-thirds of the corals dying - a subject raised by the Greens in the Senate on Wednesday.

Climate, other risks

Dr Wachenfeld said there are reports of bleaching again this year "right through to the Torres Strait", of varying severity.

"Way up there, this cyclone is going to make no difference at all to the temperatures of the water," he said.

Reefs closer to the area hit by Cyclone Debbie, such Orpheus Reef near Townsville, could do with cooler conditions.

The need to do more to protect the reef - such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions and investing to reduce other threats including nutrient-rich run-off from farms - is "only reinforced by the current events", he said.

Global warming is increasing the background temperatures of the world's oceans, increasing the likelihood that natural weather fluctuations will push corals beyond heat-stress thresholds. Longer term, rising acidity from the increased absorption of carbon dioxide in the oceans also threaten corals and other creatures such as shell-fish.

Climate change is also increasing the likelihood of more intense cyclones even if - at least in the Australia region - the number of cyclones will probably be reduced, according to scientists such as Jonathan Nott of James Cook University.

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