Great Barrier Reef is at risk of catastrophe as temperatures in Australia remain high

Great Barrier Reef is at risk of catastrophe as temperatures in Australia remain high
A variety of corals form an outcrop on Flynn Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Toby Hudson

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger of a catastrophic bleaching event that scientists warn could have dire consequences on the survival of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.


"It's a sobering reality we're in," Georgia Institute of Technology coral reef scientist Kim Cobb told Vice.

Temperatures in the waters surrounding the reef have been high in recent weeks, part of the months-long heatwave that brought devastating fires to Australia that ringed the country in December, forcing thousands from their homes and killing millions of animals. The fires were followed by massive flooding in February.

As Maddie Stone reported for Vice, the heat has led to a dangerous situation for the survival of the reef:

For the past few weeks, the Great Barrier Reef has been running a fever, with temperatures along the 1,400 mile-long ecosystem hovering a degree Celsius or more above normal. At these temperatures, corals become stressed and start to bleach, jettisoning the colorful algae that provide them their food and turning a bloodless white. If the water remains warm for too long, the algae won't return, and the corals will starve.

Experts worry the Great Barrier Reef is now uncomfortably close to that tipping point.

NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Program expects widespread bleaching, the organization said, from the north to the south of the reef.

"You're looking at a bigger, more widespread event," program director Mark Eakin told Vice.

Imaging from the organization shared by James Cook University Coral Reef Studies director Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter showed the increase in temperature.

"More widespread than 2016 or 2017, but hopefully not quite as intense," said Hughes. "I'm particularly concerned about the south, which has not been exposed to widespread bleaching before."

As Common Dreams reported in February, scientists observing the rising sea temperatures around the reef described the situation then as on "a knife edge."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.