Coral bleaching leaves Great Barrier Reef devastated

Scientists "shocked" as record heatwave causes record breaking scale of bleaching.


By: Pari Heidari, Larry King Now

A particularly vicious El Niño is being blamed for the most severe event of coral bleaching in the history of the Great Barrier Reef. 

The El Niño is warming waters beyond what corals can tolerate and causing mass bleaching across reefs between Cairns and Papua New Guinea. While the El Niño is held directly culpable, scientists point out that there is a general rise in sea temperatures because of global warming. 

In the 8000 years its been around, the Great Barrier Reef has only experienced a few recorded occurrences of major bleaching. Beginning in the early 1980s, 1998 and 2002 were commonly regarded as the worst in the history of the Barrier Reef up till now. This time, the intensity and extent of bleaching is record breaking, stretching over more than 1000 kilometers.

Samantha Goyen, says the visual of the reef is "pretty shocking." Goyen has a PhD candidate from University of Technology Sydney and has specialized in coral survival in extreme environments. According to her, over 45% of the studied reefs are showing sings of bleaching. 

Marine biologists are understandably concerned, not only because this is the largest ever mass coral bleaching (some marine biologists are actually calling the event the "apocalypse" of the Great Barrier Reef), but as a major climate change indicator, the devastation of the coral reef is demonstrable evidence of an impending environmental disaster. Ms. Goyen suggests the event should be taken seriously as it is in fact an indication of what's to come. 
After studying coral reefs for decades, prominent marine scientist Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg blames the event on global warming. "This event, I would say with 99 percent certainty, is being driven by anthropogenic climate change," he says.
Dr Russell Reichelt, chairman of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, agrees. "The mass bleaching is a result of climate change and a strong El Nino exacerbating high sea surface temperatures that usually occur at this time of year." 

Still not convinced about the reality of climate change? See what Neil deGrasse Tyson had to say about the matter when he appeared on Larry King Now!

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