Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) revealed that the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching, said a statement released on March 2. The organisation urged a response for this immediately before it’s too late.

GBRMPA’S Chairman Russell Reichelt noted that the highest risk for mass coral bleaching happens during the El Niño period between February and March. Bleaching is commonly observed in shallow areas exposed to the sun and it results when stress forces the algae zooxanthellae, which gives the corals their colour and food, out of the coral’s tissue.

“Bleaching is a clear signal that living corals are under physiological stress. If that stress is bad enough for long enough, the corals can die. Corals generally have a temperature limit, and the bleaching indicates they’re outside of their comfort zone,” said Reichelt. “At this stage, there appears to be low rates of coral mortality restricted to a small number of reefs, and most of the corals affected by bleaching are those that are particularly vulnerable to this type of event such as plate and branching corals.”

Wikimedia/J. Roff

Wikimedia/J. Roff

Reichelt asserted that some areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have seen an increase in temperature of about 2.5 degrees Celsius. The lack of clouds above worsens this temperature spike.

Still, the researchers pointed out that the Great Barrier Reef’s bleaching is less alarming than what happens across the Pacific. GBRMPA has ramped up their in-water site investigation to counter any drastic changes in the following weeks.

Nevertheless, Reichelt said that the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecasts have told them that increased temperatures will increase bleaching.

“What happens now will be entirely dependent on local weather conditions. If we’re fortunate enough to receive plenty of cloud cover, which will effectively provide shade, it will go a long way to reducing heat absorption by the ocean and alleviating thermal stress on corals,” Reichelt added.

GBRMPA assured that it will collaborate with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University and its Coral Reef Centre of Excellence, the University of Queensland, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to analyse the severity of bleaching during the mass bleaching in this area.

The Australian and Queensland governments have presented the Reef 2050 plan to protect coastal habitats and improve water quality. Individuals are also instructed to follow the policies to prevent further damage in the area.