After decades of damning reports, bleak images, and depressing headlines, one new report claims to have a “positive update” on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).
The Reef & Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC), a non-profit organization, has published a report for the Queensland State Government that claims parts of the GBR are showing some “signification signs” of recovery from years of bleaching.
Don’t crack out the champagne just yet, though - the future of the world's largest coral reef (or any coral reef, for that matter) is still not looking rosy. At all.
While scientists and policymakers have been working hard to support the reefs, this recent development is primarily thanks to of a milder 2017-18 summer. The welcoming weather has allowed parts of the reef to regain some of its health following the catastrophic bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, but all it takes is another bad reason and it’s back to square one.
“Saxon Reef, for example, suffered some form of bleaching on 47.1 percent of its live coral cover during the 2016 event. Fortunately, much of the bleached coral recovered thanks to better conditions experienced in 2018,” Sheriden Morris, RRRC Managing Director, said in a statement.
“However, this recovery is always going to be contingent on environmental conditions.”
A section of bleached coral. Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock
“We all know that the reef may suffer further bleaching events as the climate continues to warm, but we have to do everything we possibly can to help protect our Great Barrier Reef,” he warned
Coral have a mutually beneficial relationship with microalgae that live in their tissues. The corals provide protection and extra surface area, the photosynthetic algae provide the “food.” If the algae become stressed by disease, pollution, or temperatures, then the algae leave the coral. Along with losing their vibrant rich coloring, the corals will lose an important energy source, becoming weak and susceptible to disease. Fortunately, corals do have a significant capacity to bounce back from this damage.
Morris explained, “It is important to realize that bleaching occurs in multiple stages, ranging from the equivalent of a mild sunburn to coral mortality.”
The GBR is much more than a pretty sight. Stretching for over 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) down the coastline of Queensland in northeast Australia, it is the world's largest coral reef system by some margin. Coral reefs, in general, contain almost a third of the world's known marine biodiversity, from giant turtles to teeny seahorses.
For Queensland, it’s also a great source of touris