There’s good reason the Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s best-known attractions: it’s incredible. But this natural wonder is also incredibly fragile.
The effect of climate change on that fragile ecosystem continues to draw international headlines.
Now the federal government’s top reef agency has warned that corals in the far north of the Reef have started to ‘bleach’.
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has found “significant bleaching” at three reefs. This raises concerns about a wider spread.
The affected reefs are in the Shelburne Bay/Wuthani region of Cape York. It’s one of the most pristine and beautiful sections of the enormous coral reef system. (In total, it’s bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined.)
Most of the Great Barrier Reef park is now at two to three degrees above normal, according to the Authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld.
Rising sea temperatures can cause zooxanthellae – the tiny marine algae that live inside coral – to die. This leads to the ‘bleaching’ effect. While this doesn’t mean the coral itself is dead, it’s at risk if the unfavourable conditions continue.
While the far north of the Reef is relatively unscathed by direct human contact, it’s still vulnerable to planetary warming caused by burning fossil fuels. Bleaching can’t be halted, but scientists are closely monitoring the conditions to assess next steps.
Millions of tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef each year. It’s home to some of the world’s best snorkelling and scuba diving, along with superior beaches and wildlife-spotting. There’s also, believe it or not, an underwater hotel in the Whitsundays section of the Reef. (An overnight stay at Reefsuite starts at $799 per person.)
You can read up more at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website.
(Lead Image: Great Barrier Reef near Airlie Beach, Whitsundays Islands / Wikimedia Commons)