May 29, 2016

The Summer One Third of the Great Barrier Reef Died

Cooktown QLD 4895
Cairns QLD
Townsville City QLD 4810
Australia
by
Christie Wilcox
,
Discover Magazine
Researchers survey bleached corals in the shallow water in Cygnet Bay, Western Australia, during current bleaching event. Photo: Chris Cornwall
Researchers survey bleached corals in the shallow water in Cygnet Bay, Western Australia, during current bleaching event. Photo: Chris Cornwall

The hope was that, although the percentage of reefs with bleached corals noted in April was gut-wrenching, most of them would weather the storm. But after surveys of more than 100,000 corals on 84 different reefs, the results are grim.

The corals of the Great Barrier Reef have been struggling for some time. Scientists estimated that between 1985 and 2012, the Great Barrier Reef lost over 50% of its corals. Some fell victim to crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks fueled by agricultural runoff, while others were smashed by cyclones or stressed to death by warmer waters. Per year, just under 3.5% of the reef’s corals vanished.

But the reef has never been hit as hard by anything as it was by this most recent bleaching event. Scientists now estimate that 35% of the corals in the north and central sections of the reef, from Townsville, Queensland to Papua New Guinea, are dead