More than 2,000 scientists and policy makers united in a letter addressed to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbell, urging him to take action immediately to aggressively reduce Australia’s carbon footprint in an attempt to slow or reverse the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. This cry for help followed the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium held in Honolulu, Hawaii last week.
This year has seen the worst coral reef bleaching on record. It is believed that more than 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached and an estimated 50% of reefs around the world have been damaged by “local or global factors,” the International Society for Reef Studies suggests. Factors that contribute to coral reef bleaching include excess carbon gases, transport of fossil fuels, overexposure to sunlight, agricultural run-off, and port dredging.
The bleaching process begins when something in the environment, such as warmer water temperature, stresses the coral and causes it to expel tiny photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. Without the algae, coral changes from colorful and vibrant to nearly white. Coral that is bleached is under even greater stress, and often dies.
The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of northeastern Australia, is the largest coral reef system on the planet. It supports an immense diversity of life and can even be seen from outer space.
Photo courtesy of National Geographic
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