How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef?

By Amy McCready, Animal rights journalist. Updated: April 24, 2017
How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef?

Sadly, severe bleaching events have affected an enormous two-thirds of Australia's magnificent Great Barrier Reef. Now, the largest living thing on earth is running out of time. The Great Barrier Reef experienced two major bleaching events in the summers of 1998 and 2002. When, respectively, 42% and 54% of reefs were affected by bleaching. More recently, new aerial surveys have shown that two consecutive mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have damaged 1,500 km of the reef. This damaged coral has limited chance of recovering. Now only the southern part of the Barrier Reef is left unharmed.

If you are unsure just what coral bleaching is, why it happens or how we can prevent it, keep reading this AnimalWised article. Let's reveal the answer to: how does mass coral bleaching affect the Great Barrier Reef?

You may also be interested in: Endangered Animals in the Great Barrier Reef

What is coral bleaching?

As the name suggests, coral bleaching is the process in which coral appears to have lost all its color and turned white. Although it may look beautiful, it is something to be concerned about and not admired.

Coral reefs are made up of thousands of tiny “polyps” ( related to anemones and jellyfish). When these coral polyps get stressed, they spit out the algae that live inside them. Without this colorful algae, the coral flesh becomes transparent, exposing white skeleton underneath.

Algae is necessary for the coral to live and provides 90% of its energy. However, if the surrounding water temperature becomes too high, there is no way for the coral to hold onto the algae and recover. Thus, killing the coral.

60 major episodes of coral bleaching have occurred between 1979 and 1990. And in 2016 and 2017, the two longest coral bleaching events were recorded. This is disastrous for the livelihood of the Great Barrier Reef.

How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef? - What is coral bleaching?

The causes and effects of coral bleaching

Ultimately, it all comes down to stress, induced by climate change. Elevated water temperature is the primary cause of mass bleaching events.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to one third of the World's Coral population, which means it has the largest coral reef system too. Due to the actions of humans, this natural wonder of the world is now home to several endangered species and hundreds that could be endangered soon. Some include, 4 out of 6 marine turtles, dugong, several subspecies of whales, saltwater crocodiles and of course, coral.

Read this AnimalWised article to know more about endangered animals in the great barrier reef.

El Niño is also a major cause of coral bleaching. El Niño is an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting the equatorial Pacific region and beyond every few years. It causes unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off northern Peru and Ecuador. El Niño prolonged the 2016 mass coral bleaching event.

Some of you may be thinking, "this is a shame, but how important are coral reefs for the rest of the planet?" Well, they shelter 25 percent of marine species, protect shorelines, support fishing industries, and could be the home to the next huge medical breakthrough. So, quite important.

How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef? - The causes and effects of coral bleaching

How to prevent coral bleaching

It is common to feel helpless when such colossal elements of our planet are deteriorating. Yet, there are things we can do as humans, to improve our carbon footprint and help prevent coral bleaching from wiping out the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Recycle: Dispose of your trash properly. Particularly, if you are on the beach, be sure not to leave any rubbish there as it will likely get blown into the sea. Littering causes harm to the coral itself but can also kill the fish that populate the coral reefs. There are many reasons for ensuring we dispose of trash properly.

  • Reduce pollution: Although it’s hard to comprehend, fossil fuel emissions from cars can lead to ocean warming. Which, in turn, leads to mass coral bleaching. If you can, walk, cycle or ride the bus. Pollution is a major concern all over the world and can be tackled easily through simple everyday changes.

  • Plant a tree: Planting trees reduces agricultural runoff, which can end up in the ocean. Trees also store carbon which helps cool the planet. This means cooler ocean temperatures and ultimately, the prevention of coral bleaching.

  • Conserve water: Don’t waste water. Turn your tap off when you brush your teeth, and don’t leave it running when you do the dishes. Saving water will also help prevent runoff into oceans, a key way that coral reefs are damaged.

  • Voice your opinion: Spread the word about the importance of coral reefs and why we need them. The more people make changes to their everyday lives, the larger the impact we will make on the oceans and our planet.
How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef? - How to prevent coral bleaching

If you want to read similar articles to How Does Mass Coral Bleaching Affect the Great Barrier Reef?, we recommend you visit our Endangered animals category.

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