The Great Barrier Reef is still recovering from the massive coral bleaching event that destroyed 400 miles of its northern regions last year. Yet experts warn of an “elevated and imminent risk” of another widespread bleaching in 2017.
According to an alert issued by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, more of the reef is demonstrating accumulated heat stress than the same period last year, before it saw the worst bleaching event that killed off 25 percent of all coral and threatened the reef’s world heritage status.
Another Bleaching Event On The Horizon
The office, according to the government briefing called “2017 Coral Bleaching Event,” is receiving more reports of coral bleaching as well as disease from many sections of the reef, such as on Mackay, situated far south of the worst bleaching sites last year.
“[The reef authority] is concerned that a significant bleaching event may occur again this year,” the briefing stated, as reported by The Guardian.
This year, sea surface temperatures are deemed warmer than from 12 months earlier.
The alert from the reef authority, which performs underwater surveys around Townsville and Cairns, cited the “repeated stress” experienced by the reef through an unusually hot winter and “a second warm summer” after the 2016 bleaching situation.
Last week, the agency conducted 54 spot checks of six reefs, each showing thermal stress due to higher-than-usual temperatures.
A new U.N. world heritage committee report, conducted by the Great Barrier Reef independent review group criticized the Australian government’s lack of planning on how to deal with climate change’s effects on the beleaguered reef. It warned that the Reef 2050 Plan — projecting that the reef will improve every decade from now to 2050 — is no longer within reach for the next 20 years at a minimum.
It also hit the country’s carbon emission reduction targets as “not commensurate” with a fair share to the global budget necessary to meet the Paris agreement’s targets and for coral reef protection around the world. Queensland, for instance, sees the approval of new coal mines, the report said.
Are Paris Agreement, Other Current Measures Enough?
The Paris agreement, aiming to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and slash the speed of rising temperatures and other climate change effects, may not even be enough to save the reefs. According to experts, it could take around 10 to 20 years for coral reefs to recover from bleaching.
For Bangor University’s Dr. Gareth Williams, co-author of a study investigating the implications of the agreement on the coral reefs’s future, the Paris deal can reduce emissions but even with adherence, “it won’t buy that much more time for reefs.”
Australian environment minister Josh Frydenberg, on the other hand, believes in the ongoing success of relevant federal and Queensland government programs, such as the implementation of measures amounting to over $2 billion towards the 2050 Plan.
Current indicators, however, point to the urgency of saving the reef now. These include actions such as slashing carbon pollution and blocking new coal mines, as hoped by marine biologists and conservationists who have seen the reef’s suffering unravel.