A new study by the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce reveals the widespread devastation of the world’s largest coral reef.
Lyretail Anthias in Coral Reef
Credit: Daniela Dirscherl/WaterFrame

There is growing concern over the condition of the Great Barrier Reef after a new survey by the country’s National Coral Bleaching Taskforce revealed that 93% of the reef has undergone coral bleaching.

This study comes after the WWF Australia released new footage on March 20 showing alarming images of bleached coral around Lizard Island in the northern part of the world’s largest coral reef.

“The new video and stills are very concerning and show large sections of coral drained of all color and fighting for survival,” WWF spokesperson Richard Leck said in a statement. That same day Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt had raised the reef’s threat level to the highest possible, after examining portions of it by plane and saying it was “cause for concern.”

High temperatures have been blamed for the bleaching catastrophe. The reefs were “effectively bathed in warm water for months, creating heat stress that they could no longer cope with,” Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority, told The Guardian after citing that surface sea temperatures went above 90 degrees in February.

Unfortunately, this problem has been coming for a long time. According to a 10-year study by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, reefs and other marine life around the world are dying due to the rise in greenhouse gases, which is destroying the delicate ecosystem. “If we continue down this pathway we get into conditions which have no analog to anything we've experienced," Hoegh-Guldberg said.

He added that oceans were the Earth’s “heart and lungs” because they produce half of the world’s oxygen and absorb 30 percent of man-made carbon dioxide. "We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail. We are well on the way to the next great extinction event,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Despite the devastation, the UN ruled July 2015 against listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger.” But, Australia was given five years to stop further deterioration and must show a plan by the end of 2016.

By Jordi Lippe and Jordi Lippe-McGraw