Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

‘Dead Corals Don’t Make Babies’: New Great Barrier Reef Coral Growth Declined 89% After Back-to-Back Bleaching Events

Oceans
Coral bleaching at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef in March 2016. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

The back-to-back coral bleaching events that damaged two-thirds of Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017 have had a lasting impact on the health of the largest living structure on earth.

A study published in Nature Wednesday found that the death of corals in 2016 and 2017 has significantly decreased the ability of new corals to grow and thrive. In 2018, there has been an 89 percent decline in the number of new corals on the reef compared to the historic record.

"Dead corals don't make babies," lead author and James Cook University professor Terry Hughes said, as BBC News reported.


The researchers, from the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, were surprised by the extent of the decline in new corals. It was the first time they had observed such a decline on the reef.

"We thought the Barrier Reef was too big to fail," ARC chief investigator Andrew Baird told The New York Times, "but it's not."

Baird added that the study was the first to document the collapse of the processes of an ocean ecosystem.

Bleaching occurs when warm water forces corals to expel the algae that gives them color and nutrients. Reefs can recover from such events, but it takes about a decade. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered four since 1998 and, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current levels, there could be two bleaching events every decade beginning in 2035.

The extent of the most recent bleaching events — covering 900 miles of reef — also made it harder for baby corals to replenish impacted coral populations, BBC News explained.

"Babies can travel over vast distances, and if one reef is knocked out, there are usually plenty of adults in another reef to provide juveniles," Baird told BBC News. "Now, the scale of mortality is such that there's nothing left to replenish the reef."

The bleaching impacted some corals more than others. New Acropora corals decreased by 93 percent. These are table-shaped corals that are responsible for the three-dimensional structure of the reef and provide habitat for species like coral trout and clown fish.

"We've always anticipated that climate change would shift the mix of coral," Hughes told National Geographic. "What's surprised us is how quickly that is now happening. It's not happening in the future. It's something that we're now measuring."

A 2018 study had provided some hope by finding that corals that survived the 2016 bleaching event were also better able to withstand the event in 2017. Researchers are trying to breed the more resilient corals, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch coordinator Mark Eakin, who was not involved in the study, told The New York Times that projects like this could not replenish the whole reef.

"Those are at the scale of a large family garden," he said, while the threat to the Great Barrier Reef could cause "the loss of an entire seascape."

Baird seemed to agree.

"We've gotten to the point now where local solutions for the reef are almost pointless―the only thing that matters is action on climate change," Baird told BBC News.

Coral bleaching at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef in January 2016.

The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A flight carrying Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China lands in Alaska on Jan. 28. Lance King / Getty Images

More than a dozen federal employees were sent to receive Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the new coronavirus — without proper training or protective gear, according to a whistleblower complaint first reported by The Washington Post Thursday.

Read More
A pangolin at a rescue center in Cambodia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Malavika Vyawahare

China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected more than 81,000 people, most of them in China, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Read More
Sponsored
White gold man-made diamond solitaire engagement ring. Clean Origin

While keeping track of the new trends in the diamond industry can be hard, it is still an essential task of any savvy consumer or industry observer. Whether you are looking to catch a deal on your next diamond purchase or researching the pros and cons of an investment within the diamond industry, keeping up with the trends is imperative.

Read More
A man carries plastic shopping bags in Times Square on May 5, 2018 in New York City. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis / Getty Images

Nearly one year after New York became the second state in the nation to pass a ban on grocery store plastic bags — the law is going into effect on Sunday.

Read More
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) chants with housing and environmental advocates before a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of her Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol Nov. 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to chide Republicans for not reading the Green New Deal, which she introduced over one year ago, as The Hill reported. She then read the entire 14-page document into the congressional record.

Read More