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Damage To Great Coral Reef Irreversible, Scientists Say

First Posted: Apr 15, 2017 05:30 AM EDT
Great Barrier Reef Threatened With Extinction 'Within 20 Years'
Aerial views of The Great Barrier Reef are seen from above on Aug. 7, 2009 in Cairns, Australia. A recent report by marine scientist Charlie Veron claims that the reef will be so degraded by warming seas that it will be gone within 20 years, and that this situation is now irreversible.
(Photo : Phil Walter/Getty Images)

In 2016, El Niño decimated Australia's Great Coral Reef with a wave of warm water, leading to a massive bleaching. This year, the same thing happened, albeit without the climate phenomenon. For the unprecedented second year in a row, mass coral bleaching is decimating the aquatic ecosystem, and scientists fear the damage done may be irreversible.

In a report by Salon, director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Terry Hughes said that the bleaching may be caused by the rising temperatures brought about by global warming. This is especially notable considering that the northern half of the reef was hit hard by the changing waters in both 2016 and 2017 and has spread to nearly 900 miles.

If this continues, the coral reef could die. James Kerry, a scientist at the center, noted that even the fastest corals could take at least a decade to make a full recovery. Therefore, mass bleachings that occur only 12 months apart offer no chance of recovery. Before the back-to-back bleaching, only two other such events occurred in two decades -- in 1998 and again in 2002.

According to Fox6 Now, only the last third of stretch is the only section that escaped significant bleaching. In March, the corals were also subjected to the wrath of Cyclone Debbie, which traveled over a 60-mile-wide corridor across the reef and has done a lot of damage to the corals.

Bleaching does not necessarily kill the corals right away, but higher water temperatures will expel the algae living inside them. Also, they will have to recolonize new places. Without the algae, the corals could die and, along with it, kill many species relying on them in the marine ecosystem.

Kerry also explained that a temperature rise of 1 to 2 degrees for up to three or four weeks could be enough to do damage to the corals. If the trend continues, the corals would not just bleach but they will also be eventually "cooked" and die faster than ever.

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