Defenders of one the planet’s greatest natural wonders say the vast coral spectacular is not dead – and they are striving for its “health and resilience” to protect it for posterity.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reacted to an “obituary” written by a leading travel writer in memory of the UNESCO site over the weekend said it had died at the age of 25 million years old.
Today the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned that such “untrue” headlines will disempower people and stop them helping to protect the 1,400-mile living structure with its 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 molluscs and 30 different types of whale and dolphin.
The authority was speaking out against the backdrop of a serious “bleaching event” this year that resulted in an overall coral mortality of 22 per cent.
Its chairman and chief executive Dr Russell Reichelt said: “The 2016 mass coral bleaching, the worst bleaching event to affect the Great Barrier Reef, was triggered by record-breaking sea surface temperatures –reflecting the underlying trend of global ocean warming caused by climate change combined with a strong El Niño.”
But explaining how the authority is “back in the water” carrying out new surveys, he explained how two billion Australian dollars – the equivalent of £1.25 billion – is being spent with the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan.
He said: “Ensuring Reef resilience is our core priority and we are doing all we can to support its recovery.”
Among the ways funds are being spent are: financing clean energy products; improving water quality to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff into Reef waters as well as controlling crown-of-thorn starfish which prey on living coral.
Dr Reichelt added: “The Reef is a very large and resilient ecosystem. While the bleaching this year was very serious, recent studies have shown that in the three years prior to the bleaching coral cover increased by 19 per cent across the Marine Park.
“The Great Barrier Reef still remains in a much better state than many other coral reefs around the world; however, the severity of the global mass bleaching event reinforces the need for a concerted international effort on climate change as well as national and local actions to reduce all other pressures on the Reef.
“Our message should be one of empowerment – working together, we can make a difference.”
Coral bleaching, put simply, is what happens when environmental stress impacts on the “symbiotic” relationship between the rock-like living creatures that form the reefs and microscopic algae that give them their incredible colours.
When stressful factors, particularly the warming up of ocean waters because of climate change, take effect, the corals expel the algae, leaving them to become transparent skeletons.
Without the algae, the coral then simply starve.
The Australian Government says mass coral bleaching has occurred in the past.
It states: “In 1998, there was a global mass bleaching event. This affected 50 per cent of the reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. At this time, sea temperatures on the Reef were the highest ever recorded.
“Mass bleaching also occurred on the Reef in 2002, with 60 per cent of reefs affected. This was the world’s largest coral bleaching event on record.
“In both the 1998 and 2002 events, the vast majority of corals on the Reef survived, as sea temperatures came back down again in time for them to recover.
“About five per cent of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral reefs experienced coral die-off in both these events.”