The Great Barrier Reef Is Showing Signs of Recovery From Coral Bleaching

Sep 10, 2018

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Researches in Australia found that the Great Barrier Reef is showing significant signs of recovery after years of being affected by mass coral bleaching.

The nonprofit Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) based in Queensland said milder summers in 2017 and 2018, as well as cooperation between science, industry and government supporting reef recovery, have made it possible for the corals to regain health in several locations.

Several parts of the GBR and other reefs around the world endured extreme coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017. Coral bleaching occurs when the corals are stressed by changes in conditions like temperature, light or nutrients, and they turn completely white as they eject the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae living in their tissues. Corals can eventually die from bleaching if the stress remains persistent.

According to the RRRC, recent reports and photos taken by tourism operators and tourists show healthy and vibrant coral at several locations such as Fitzroy Island, Moore Reef and Saxon Reef. Saxon Reef suffered from bleaching on roughly 47%  of its live coral cover during 2016.

“Fortunately, much of the bleached coral recovered thanks to better conditions experienced in 2018,” RRRC Managing Director Sheriden Morris said in a statement. “However, this recovery is always going to be contingent on environmental conditions. It is critical that all efforts are made to promote the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.” Morris continued to say the misconception that the entire GBR died from severe coral bleaching is “blatantly untrue.”

Several environmental groups are working to restore coral health. The nonprofit Reef Restoration Foundation created the first ocean-based coral nursery in the GBR in December 2017 using innovative coral reef restoration techniques to regenerate damaged coral reefs at Fitzroy Island, Cairns, and have plans to install a series of other nurseries throughout the rest of the CBR. The group reported that the first crop of corals grew two and half times in size in six months with 222 new coral fragments resulted from the initial 24 pieces of harvested coral.

Bleaching is a serious threat to corals around the world. In 2005, the US lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event and comparison of satellite data from the last 20 years revealed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In May, Hawaii passed a first-of-its kind bill to ban certain sunscreens that were harming nearby coral reefs off its shores.

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