Great Barrier Reef Has Third Major Bleaching Event in Five Years
The Great Barrier Reef, a natural wonder that once teemed with life, just experienced a major coral bleaching event, according to scientists who conducted aerial surveys over hundreds of individual reefs, as The Guardian reported.
According to NBC News, the entire Great Barrier Reef is suffering a period of unprecedented heat stress. This bleaching event is the third one in five years and questions remain about the corals' ability to recover from the constant onslaught from changing marine conditions.
"This has never happened before," Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland, said as the NBC News reported. "We're in completely uncharted territory."
Bleachings don't necessarily kill the corals, but it does leave them extremely vulnerable to disease from bacteria or viruses. Bleaching, which occurs in response to abnormal conditions like heat or increased acidity in the water, forces the corals to release the tiny photosynthetic algae that live in their tissue and are responsible for their color, according to NBC News.
The previous two heat stress related bleaching events were in 2016 and 2017. Scientists say the frequency of the heat-induced bleaching is a direct result of the climate crisis, which spells trouble for the vitality of the reef since the corals do not have enough time to recover and to grow back, according to NBC News.
The scientists conducting the aerial surveys are from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.
Terry Hughes, who runs the center, told The Guardian, that after three days of the planned nine-day survey, "We know this is a mass bleaching event and it's a severe one. We know enough now that [the bleaching] is more severe than in 1998 and 2002. How it sits with 2016 and 2017 we are not sure yet."
Global warming is an enormous threat to the future of coral reefs around the world. As The Guardian reported, The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded from published evidence that a majority of tropical coral reefs would disappear even if heating was limited to the Paris agreement's target of 1.5 degrees Celsius and would be "at very high risk" at 1.2 degrees Celsius.
Hughes told NBC News there have been only five recorded Great Barrier Reef bleaching events. The first was in 1998, followed by 2002, then in 2016, 2017 and this year, setting up a disturbing pattern.
"The gap between one event and the next is shrinking, not just for the Great Barrier Reef, but forreefs throughout the tropics," Hughes said to NBC News. "That's important, because it takes a decade or so for a half-decent recovery of even the fastest-growing corals. The slowest ones take several decades."
While past bleaching events, like the ones in 2002 and 2016, were driven by El Niño weather events, this one happened just because the Australian summer was too hot.
"We no longer need an El Niño to trigger a bleaching event — we just need a hot summer," Eakin said to NBC News. "And the summers are getting hotter and hotter because of global warming. That is astounding in itself."
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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