The Great Barrier Reef is struggling to create new coral. Scientists at James Cook University just published a study that shows a shocking decrease in the number of baby coral last year, leading to uncertainty about the future of the reef system.

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The study revealed that new coral declined by a shocking 89 percent because of large bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 — which were caused by climate change. The last bleaching happened in 2017, and scientists counted how many coral survived the crisis and how many new coral sprung up in 2018.

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Not only were the numbers extremely low compared to historical counts, but the types of new coral being produced are different as well. According to The Guardian, scientists are worried about the health of the reef, especially if it experiences another bleaching event in the next decade. The reef has survived the previous two bleaching incidents, but a third could do irreparable damage to the world’s largest reef system.

“We’ve told the story of coral dying, we’ve told the story of some being winners and losers. Now we’ve got the next phase where species have a chance to recover,” Terry Hughes, the lead scientist in the study, shared.

The Great Barrier Reef would probably recover just fine if it weren’t for the threat of future bleaching. In areas that were hit the hardest in 2016 and 2017, the growth of new coral was slowed to only 2 percent. Those rates have since rebounded to 4 percent, but to fully recover, there would need to be no bleaching events for the next decade. Given that global warming is not really slowing down, this is highly unlikely.

Despite the negative outlook, scientists believe the Great Barrier Reef can still recover. Their biggest concern is that the recovery process will take a lot longer than previously thought. If the reef recovers, there is also worry that it will be unable to sustain those numbers against additional bleaching events.

Hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef will not witness any bleaching in the near future, so it can withstand the effects of climate change and fully flourish.

Via The Guardian

Image via Matt Kieffer