© Global Change Institute

Take action on coral bleaching

Let’s make coral bleaching a catalyst for change against coal power.

 

Last year we witnessed the largest die-off of corals ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef, caused by climate change.

 

Now the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have just announced that our greatest natural icon is experiencing mass coral bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row.

  

This is evident in our dramatic new video filmed earlier this month showing bleaching at Vlasoff Cay, the same location many sequences were filmed for David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef series.

  

 

“Climate change has knocked the Reef to its knees and now it is kicking it in the guts,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

 

“I’m shocked and saddened by what is unfolding. I did not anticipate back-to-back bleaching this decade." 

 

The Great Barrier Reef has now been hit by four mass bleaching events: 1998, 2002, 2016, and 2017. 

 

Give the Reef's true colours a fighting chance

Join us in telling the Australian Government and Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, we don’t want public money spent on polluting coal power.

We want investment in clean, renewable energy that will help protect our Great Barrier Reef.

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Coral, coal, and climate change:

Climate change - driven by the mining and burning of fossil fuels like coal - is warming our oceans and bleaching coral reefs worldwide, including our Great Barrier Reef.

Yet just last week the Australian government announced its intention to use money from the taxpayer (through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation) to build new coal-fired power plants.

Early signs of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching at Moore Reef on February 27, 2017 © Global Change InstituteIf we act now - the Reef’s true colours can have a fighting chance to recover. If we don’t, climate change will continue to have severe impact on water temperatures, and if carbon pollution isn’t reduced, the Reef will see severe coral bleaching more frequently - which not only impacts coral communities but also the marine life that depends on it.

It just doesn’t make sense to subsidise polluting coal power stations  when the Reef’s health is in decline.

But that’s exactly what the Australian government is proposing.

Join us in telling the Australian Government and Environment and Energy Minister, Mr Josh Frydenberg, we don’t want public money spent on polluting coal power. We want investment in clean, renewable energy that will help protect our Great Barrier Reef.

Coral communities have a good capacity to bounce back but they need a decade or more between severe impacts.”

Dr Terry Done

Former Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science

What is coral bleaching?

When we mine and burn coal we produce dangerous greenhouse gas pollution that causes our planet, including our oceans, to heat up. If the water stays too hot for too long, our vulnerable corals lose their colour (bleach) and often die.

Corals are actually tiny animals called polyps. Microscopic algae called zooxanthellae live inside their cells. These algae turn sunlight into energy and up to 95% of the nutrients they make are leaked to the coral.
Early signs of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching at Moore Reef on February 27, 2017 © Global Change Institute
In return, the zooxanthellae have a safe place to live and receive nutrients from the coral’s waste. However, in certain conditions this mutually beneficial relationship becomes destructive.

When the water is hotter than the average for as little as four weeks, combined with bright sunshine, the algae go into overdrive and can produce toxic levels of oxygen.

As a self-defence mechanism the corals shed the algae, and their colour along with it. (Coral polyps are actually clear, it is the algae that give coral its beautiful colour.)

Without the algae, the coral's bright white skeleton is revealed through its transparent tissue. This is what we call ‘bleaching’.

If temperatures return to normal relatively quickly, corals can regain their algae and survive. But if not, corals no longer receive enough food. They go into a downward spiral, losing fat and other energy reserves, becoming weak, and susceptible to disease.

When bleaching happens across a whole reef it is known as ‘mass bleaching’ and when bleaching is prolonged, whole reefs can die.

It is possible to maintain the rich vibrancy, health, and true colours, of our beautiful Reef.

But only if we rapidly shift to clean, renewable energy. The window to save the Reef is closing and we need to act fast.

Australia must speed up the transition to clean energy

 

Beyond addressing global warming, improving water quality and proper fisheries management are also vital to reef recovery.  

 

Because of this WWF is dedicated to establishing a fund to repair Great Barrier Reef catchments and assist farmers to adopt cleaner, more profitable practices.

Ribbon Reefs around the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef's true colours © naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWF

Enough is enough - the story so far

1998 For the first time researchers recorded severe coral bleaching events on coral reefs in every region of the world. Half the reefs on the Great Barrier Reef were impacted.

2002 Great Barrier Reef suffers another mass coral bleaching event. As coral bleaching became an issue of world concern, universities and research institutes strived to learn more.

”Seeing huge amounts of coral die (in 2002) was the kick in the guts that made me realise the Reef actually wasn’t immune from the effects of human activities, said “Dr Paul Marshall, founder and director of the climate change Program at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

2010 The second global mass coral bleaching event hit the world’s reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef.

2015 Experts declared the third global coral bleaching event was underway. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made the announcement in October that year. NOAA said the event actually started in mid-2014 in the north Pacific and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015.

2016 The largest die-off of corals ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef. By February 2016 NOAA confirmed we were experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed. “The corals are being hit again and again,” said NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator, Mark Eakin.

 

2017 The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announces in early March that our greatest natural icon is experiencing mass coral bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row.

   

 

The latest signs of coral bleaching come as a new report prepared for the World Heritage Committee by the Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group (IRG) said that the 2016 mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has set back – by at least two decades – efforts to improve the condition of our national icon and that Australia had no substantive plan for dealing with climate change impacts on the reef.

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