Data from a period of widespread coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is trickling in and it does not look good. Researchers are finding that the formerly pristine northern section of the reef has been hit especially hard, with up to 80 percent of corals killed as a result of warming waters or subsequent predators and disease.
A recent report from researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland shows the most up to date state of the damage. Scientists have taken several surveys since March, when the area was inundated with unseasonably warm waters – each painting a bleaker picture than the last. Estimates in May suggested at least 50 percent of the northern reef had died, a statistic that was bumped up to 80 percent with these recent findings. “The mortality is devastating really,” senior research fellow Andrew Hoey told The Washington Post. “It’s a lot higher than we had hoped.”
If there is any silver lining to this report, it is that the central and southern areas of the reef were not hit as badly as the north. To put things into perspective, a total 22 percent of corals have died cross the entire reef, according to the The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Where the damage is most severe, researchers note the influx of climate change-induced warm waters resulted in the first wave of coral die-off. Invasion of predatory snails and disease have since swept in to kill much of the surviving corals.
This particular bleaching event is said to be even worse than those of 1998 and 2002 – though more data needs to be gathered. Hoey says it could take one or two decades for the reef to recover from such devastation, assuming another mass bleaching event does not strike again in that time. With climate change doing anything but slowing down, those chances might be slim.