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Great Barrier Reef suffers 'mass bleaching event'

March 8, 2024

Australia confirms large parts of the Great Barrier Reef show signs of bleaching. Increased ocean temperature caused by climate change is the main cause.

Landscape of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef systemImage: HPIC/dpa/picture alliance

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is being devastated by another "widespread, often called mass, coral bleaching event", officials said on Friday.

It is the seventh time since 1998 that such severe and widespread damage has been detected, caused by warm sea temperatures.

Extreme weather cause for concern

"We know the biggest threat to coral reefs worldwide is climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is no exception," Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said.

"We need to act on climate change. We need to protect our special places and the plants and animals that call them home."

Coral bleaching occurs when under-stress corals expel algae living within their tissues, draining them of their vibrant colors and life. 

Tremendous pressure on the reef

The Australian Reef Authority said it is still trying to determine the severity and extent of bleaching.

Turning the tide on coral reef destruction

"While the area's aerial surveys are showing that the coral bleaching is extensive in the shallow water areas, we will need in-water surveys to confirm the severity of the coral bleaching and also what the depth range is," Roger Beeden, Chief Scientist of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said.

Richard Leck, head of oceans at World Wildlife Fund Australia, said it was likely that masses of coral would die if ocean temperatures do not cool rapidly in the coming weeks.

"This bleaching event is unfolding in an area where corals have not been previously exposed to these extreme temperatures," he said.

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lo/rmt (AFP, Reuters)