The Great Barrier Reef Just Experienced Its Biggest Die-Off Ever, And You Can Probably Guess Why

35 percent of the natural wonder is either dying or already dead.

In a recent scientific survey conducted which compared the Great Barrier Reef’s health to what it was just several months prior, it’s clear that increased water temperatures tied to global warming are responsible for the biggest short-term die-off the reef in recorded history. The institute behind the study, ARC Centre of Excellence For Coral Reef Studies, initially concluded earlier this year that 35% of the reef was dead or dying.

The study, conducted via aquatic exploration and sampling, along with aerial photo analysis found that the situation has worsened far faster than anyone anticipated.

This graphic, included in the study, shows the extent of the depletion of coral life off the coast of Australia.

ARC Centre of Excellence For Coral Reef Studies)

The phenomenon colloquially referred to as a “die-off” is known as “coral bleaching” technically. It takes place when increases in water temperatures lead to the expulsion of algae the coral holds called zooxanthella. The past five months showed record-high water temperatures throughout all parts of the reef, on average of a full degree Celsius than in years previous.

Without the zooxanthella, the coral starved, dying en masse throughout the reef, though the most prominent damage occurred in one area. Says, ARC scientist Terry Hughes:

“Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef. This region escaped with minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly affected.”

He says in the study that the increased temperature stems directly from carbon emissions. He also mentions that while a die-off of this scale was something of an anomaly, the trend is clear, and we can expect this to be an annual occurrence in several decades’ time should the issue of global warming not be addressed, curbed, then reversed.

Fellow ARC scientist Greg Torda told USA Today that if the trend continues unabated, “it would be among the largest mass extinction events in history.”

This video shows the profound scope and importance of the aquatic wonder:

If you’re looking for a silver lining in this bleak story about one of the richest habitats for life in the world, it seems that roughly 60% of the reef suffered relatively minor damage. While “minor damage” wouldn’t normally be anything to pop champagne over, it’s possibly a sign that there’s time to heal the Great Barrier Reef.

For those uncompelled by the intrinsic value of the most vibrant and wonderful natural formations in the world’s oceans, there’s a quantifiable and palpable financial cost to the destruction of the reef – it’s existence is the backbone of a $5 billion tourism industry that also employs upwards of 70,000 Australian and indigenous people.

The money could be generated elsewhere, but the wonders of the reef itself would be lost forever.

Julian Meehan

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