Great Barrier Reef On Path To Recovery After 2016's Mass Coral Bleaching

The world’s largest living structure and one of the seven wonders of the natural world —Australia's Great Barrier Reef — is giving every indication of being on the path to recovery after recent massive coral bleaching, according to Tourism and Events Queensland.

The Reef & Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC), a nonprofit organization released a statement saying that thanks to a mild 2017-18 summer and to the cooperation among science, industry, and government, the reef is well on its path to recovery.

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The Great Barrier Reef—which, at 1,400 miles long, is the longest and largest coral reef in the world—was affected by extremely hot water in the summer of 2016, stressing corals and causing a phenomenon called "bleaching", in which tiny algae known as zooxanthellae abandon the corals they live with, causing the corals to lose their color. As zooxanthellae also conduct photosynthesis necessary for the corals to survive, if the algae are gone for too long, the corals die.

In 2016, the reef’s northern third, previously its most immaculate section, lost more than half of its corals. Two of its most recognizable corals, the amber-colored staghorn corals and the tabular corals, suffered the most. In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef’s middle third.

According to Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies—the Australian government’s federal research program devoted to corals, these back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. He attributes the devastation to human-caused global warming, with the accumulation of "heat-trapping pollution" in the atmosphere raising the world’s average temperature, making the oceans extremely hot and much less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

In April 2018, the New York Times reported that the Australian government had unveiled a plan to set aside 500 million Australian dollars ($379 million U.S.) to help rescue the Great Barrier Reef.

Stretching along Queensland's breathtaking coastline, the Great Barrier Reef, which can actually be seen from outer space, was added to the world heritage list in 1981. It is one of the world’s most complex and diverse ecosystems, with 1,600 fish species, seabirds, seahorses, whales, dolphins, crocodiles, dugongs, and endangered green turtles. It is also a popular tourist destination with over two million visitors each year.

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