Local tourism hotspots spared extensive coral bleaching


Karlie Brady


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Aerial surveys have been taken of the Great Barrier Reef. Image: GBRMPA

While the Great Barrier Reef has experienced its third coral bleaching event in five years, local tourism hotspots have been largely spared the brunt of it this year.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) confirmed the natural wonder had experienced another mass coral bleaching event and said it is analysing key findings from aerial surveys taken across the entire reef system.

“The aerial surveys confirmed many areas had moderate to severe bleaching. Importantly, most recognised tourism areas had no, negligible or moderate bleaching,” GBRMPA said.

Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy, Dr Dean Miller, said it has been a very hot summer with water temperatures rising up to three degrees above average, causing stress to the coral.

“Months of hot, still, and sunny days meant we saw lots of paling, fluorescing, and bleaching corals, mostly in 0-6 metres, but also even as deep as 16 metres. This is due to both warm water and direct UV as some colonies only had bleaching on upper surfaces,” he said.

“So far we have not witnessed any mortality, and with the temperature dropping, we are hoping the corals will recover. Thankfully there are a lot of coral species out there that have done relatively well in this event, meaning that the system is showing a level of resilience.

“While the bleaching is extensive, fortunately, tourism hot spots around Cairns and Port Douglas have been spared this year. But protecting tourism for the long term means we have to tackle climate change now.”

Dr Miller said the real question is how long can corals and the ecosystem hang on before reaching the point of no return.

“This is not a problem that is simply going to go away if we better manage water quality and Crown-of-Thorns starfish. This is climate change and corals have nowhere to hide from elevated water temperature,” he said.

Dr Miller added that with each bleaching event, we are losing the most vulnerable coral species and therefore biodiversity and that is why the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, with support from local businesses and Council, launched its plans for a Living Coral Biobank Project late last year.

The Coral Biobank will be used to secure living genetic material of all Great Barrier Reef corals to safeguard their future.

“Corals are one of the few groups of organisms on earth that can be kept alive indefinitely because most form colonies that keep growing for thousands of years. The Living Coral Biobank Project is the only solution for maintaining the genetic diversity of both corals and their symbionts immediately. That is what makes this project so critically important and unique,” he said.

For more information or to donate to this important project please visit Coral Biobank.

And when it is safe to do so, GBRMPA is encouraging people from across Australia and around the world to “see the Reef, love the Reef, and importantly protect the Reef”.

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