The news about the bleaching event taking place in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef just keeps getting worse. Researchers have reported that in the northern and central regions of the reef, at least 35% of the bleached corals have died. In some areas the rate is as high as 50%. There is a little good news, though. The southern portion of the iconic landmark seems to have escaped the worst, with many of the corals beginning to recover their color.
This is the third major bleaching event in the past 18 years for the reef, and the most extensive so far. Scientists are blaming the poor condition of the reef on a number of environmental factors, including water pollution and global warming. With the Australian government considering approval for new coal mines nearby in Queensland, the situation could become even more dire.
Related: Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching is now more widespread than ever
Though this year’s bleaching has been linked to unusually warm waters due to El Niño, Professor Terry Hughes of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook Universitycalls the staggering statistics “a huge wake up call” and warns that it’s unlikely the corals will be able to fully recover before a fourth or fifth bleaching event takes place. Environmental advocates warn that unless action is taken immediately to slow global warming, much of the world’s coral may vanish.
Images via ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Paul Toogood