19 February 2017 - Coral bleaching found near Palm Island as unusually warm waters are expected off eastern Australia, with areas hit in last year’s event in mortal danger.
The embattled Great Barrier Reef could face yet more severe coral bleaching in the coming month, with areas badly hit by last year’s event at risk of death.
Images taken by local divers last week and shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Australian Marine Conservation Society show newly bleached corals discovered near Palm Island.
Most of the Great Barrier Reef has been placed on red alert for coral bleaching for the coming month by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its satellite thermal maps have projected unusually warm waters off eastern Australia after an extreme heatwave just over a week ago saw land temperatures reach above 47C in parts of the country.
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sea surface temperatures from Cape Tribulation to Townsville have been up to 2C higher than normal for the time of year for more than a month.
The NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s forecast for the next four weeks has placed an even higher level alert on parts of the far northern, northern and central reef, indicating mortality is likely.
Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and parts of the far northern reef that were badly hit by last year’s mass bleaching event are at fatal risk.
Imogen Zethoven, the Great Barrier Reef’s campaign director for the AMCS, said the projections for the next four weeks, plus evidence of new coral bleaching, were “extremely concerning”.
The bleaching that occurred over eight to nine months of last year was the worst-ever on record for the Great Barrier Reef, with as much as 85% of coral between Cape York and Lizard Island dying. Twenty-two per cent of corals over the entire reef are dead.
Zethoven pointed to projections by NOAA that severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would occur annually by 2043 if nothing was done to reduce emissions.
“The reef will be gone before annual severe bleaching,” she said. “It won’t survive even biennial bleaching.”