Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is experiencing massive coral bleaching for the second year in a row, according to scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Bleaching is the process by which coral expel the helpful algae that live inside them. This then causes the coral to lose its telltale pigment and subsequently die. The process is always harmful, and the most recent case could cause the destruction of many key ecosystems throughout the reef.
The phenomenon is typically caused by rising sea temperatures, which have threatened a wide range of organisms living in the area. However, other factors, such as over-fishing and water contamination, can trigger the process as well.
Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral ecosystem. It stretches a staggering 1,400 miles and is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which limits human activity in the area.
This new bleaching event is one of the largest the region has ever seen, Tech Times reports. In fact, studies show that the central part of the reef — untouched by the last bleaching — has been hit. Researchers expect this will permanently scar the reef and hope the ecosystems will be able to bounce back before the next event occurs.
“To some extent it’s not as important whether this event is not quite as bad or worse than last year’s, I think what’s important is that the climate is changing and that is bringing a much greater frequency of extreme weather events to the Great Barrier Reef,” said David Wachenfeld, a researcher at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, according to ABC Online.
The new findings are a big cause of concern for conservationists, who are diligently working to monitor the reef as closely as possible. A team of scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies is already planning to take an aerial tour of the reef next week, when they will look at 1150 reefs in the region.
The bleaching is important to study because it shows yet another way climate change is harming the environment. Officials hope they can get a handle on it before it gets too out of control.
“I did not anticipate back-to-back bleaching this decade,” said Richard Leck, the oceans divisions head for World Wildlife Foundation Australia, according to Phys.org. “Scientists warned that without sufficient emissions reductions we could expect annual mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef by 2050. Consecutive bleaching events have arrived 30 years early.”