Aerial Survey Reveals Worst Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef Caused by Climate Change

by Kunaal Venugopal

The Great Barrier Reef has seen its worst case of coral bleaching in its history, and the third instance in the past five years. Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their colors and turn white, which can be caused by pollution. However, this bleaching comes as a result of rising ocean temperatures.

The survey estimates that the ocean temperatures were 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the March average. This is because the oceans act to absorb the majority of excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to the rise in ocean temperatures. With the rising temperatures, weather patterns such as El Niño are no longer needed to trigger bleaching in coral reefs. In fact, of the five instances of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, only the ones in 1998 and 2016 were during El Niño. This further emphasizes that the bleaching comes as a result of climate change for the most part, and cannot necessarily be solely attributed to the conditions of El Niño.

The concern with coral bleaching is that corals don’t have the time to recover. With occurrences in consecutive summers in 2016 and 2017, many of the corals affected during this time died. Ultimately, this affects the ecosystem around the coral reefs negatively, as many animals rely on them.

So what can we do to protect coral reefs?

To tackle the problem, we can do many things, such as reducing stormwater runoff and minimizing fertilizer. These solutions can prevent water pollution, which would, in turn, help coral reefs. However, writers and activists such as Rebecca Solnit know we must address the overarching problem, climate change. “The more we heat up the planet, the more it costs all of us, not just in money, but in colossal famines, displacements, deaths, and species extinctions, as well as in the loss of some of the things that make this planet a blue-green jewel, including its specialized habitats from the melting Arctic to bleaching coral reefs.” Essentially, when problems such as coral reef bleaching arise, we must address the wider cause.

Though the extent of damages brought upon by this instance of coral bleaching won’t be realized for several weeks, occurrences like these emphasize the importance of addressing the broader problem. Rather than addressing methods that would only help coral reefs, in order to truly save them from dying, we must try and mitigate climate change across the world.