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Aerial footage shows Great Barrier Reef suffering 'most severe' coral bleaching on record: 'It's time to act'

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has noted that this is the fifth mass bleaching event in just eight years.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has noted that this is the fifth mass bleaching event in just eight years.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most stunning natural wonders, is facing a dire threat. Scientists have discovered that this iconic ecosystem is experiencing unprecedented coral bleaching, putting its vibrant marine life and the livelihoods of thousands at risk in Australia alone.

What's happening?

The Guardian reported that the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing the "most severe" mass coral bleaching event on record. 

Coral bleaching occurs when corals, which are marine animals, get stressed, especially by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients. They react by expelling the symbiotic algae in their tissues. In turn, the coral turns white, or becomes bleached.

This alarming phenomenon has been confirmed by recent aerial surveys, reported by the Guardian, revealing that over half of the reefs surveyed are suffering from high to very high levels of bleaching. 

Footage from conservation groups shows that the damage extends up to 18 meters (almost 60 feet) below the surface, as detailed by the Guardian. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has noted that this is the fifth mass bleaching event in just eight years, attributed to sea temperatures being 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than usual.

"[This is] the most widespread and most severe mass bleaching and mortality event ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef," said Terry Hughes, a researcher and emeritus professor at James Cook University, per the Guardian.

Why is coral bleaching important?

Coral bleaching poses a significant threat not only to marine life but also to the human communities that depend on the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is a crucial ecosystem supporting a vast array of marine species. 

When coral bleaches, it loses the algae that give it color and energy, which can lead to the coral starving and dying. This impacts biodiversity, fisheries, and tourism, all of which are vital to the livelihoods of thousands of people in Australia — and possibly more than a billion people worldwide, as estimated by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. 

Unfortunately, coral bleaching events are becoming more common and severe due to the overheating of our planet, which is a direct result of the harmful pollution we've put into the atmosphere.

What's being done about coral bleaching?

One promising initiative is Coral Vita, founded by Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern, which uses innovative techniques to restore coral reefs faster than traditional methods. Coral Vita's land-based coral farms grow coral 50 times faster by breaking it into smaller pieces and "training" coral to adapt to harsh conditions. 

While innovative solutions like those from Coral Vita offer hope, it's crucial to address the root causes of coral bleaching: changes in climate and environmental degradation. Governments must follow through on their pollution reduction promises and halt activities that harm these vital ecosystems. 

"We cannot expect to save the Great Barrier Reef and be opening new fossil fuel developments. It's time to act and there are no more excuses," marine biologist Dr. Selina Ward told the Guardian. 

At the same time, individuals can contribute by adopting more sustainable lifestyles and supporting policies that protect the environment. 

Being more eco-friendly doesn't have to be difficult, either. For example, dirty fuels generate the bulk of harmful planet-warming pollution, but simply unplugging energy vampires could eliminate more than 800 pounds of carbon every year, saving you money to boot. 

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