Great Barrier Reef Experiences Extensive Coral Bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from widespread and severe coral bleaching due to high sea temperatures, an Australian government agency said Friday.

The report by the Marine Authority of the Great Barrier Reef, which manages the largest coral reef ecosystem in Australia and even the world, comes three days before a UN delegation assesses whether the coral reef system’s World Heritage status should be downgraded because of the ravages of climate change.

“Weather patterns over the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the extent and severity of coral bleaching in the Marine Park,” authorities said.

“Bleaching has been detected throughout the Marine Park. Widespread but varied in different regions, ranging from mild to severe,” the authority said.

The Great Barrier Reef suffered significant damage from coral bleaching caused by unusually warm ocean temperatures in 2016, 2017 and 2020. Previous bleaching damaged two-thirds of the coral reef system.

Environmental group Greenpeace said the severe and widespread coral bleaching caused by the La Nina weather pattern was evidence of the Australian government’s failure to protect the coral reef system from the effects of climate change.

“This is a sure sign that climate change caused by burning coal, oil and gas is threatening the very existence of our coral reefs,” Greenpeace Australia’s Pacific Climate Impact Campaigner Martin Zavan said in a statement.

In July last year, Australia managed to garner enough international support to delay UNESCO’s efforts to downgrade the coral reef system’s World Heritage status to “in danger” because of the damage caused by climate change.

But the question will return to the agenda of the World Heritage Committee at its next annual meeting in June. The UN delegation will examine the health of the coral reef system next week. [ab/uh]