Great Barrier Reef Suffers from the Worst Mass Coral Bleaching in History [Video]
The Great Barrier Reef, dubbed the "largest living structure on earth" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is currently suffering from the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history.
In a report, Washington Post has identified coral bleaching as a phenomenon that happens when corals are stressed out due to warming ocean temperatures.
According to a Sydney Morning Herald story, the aerial surveys of more than 500 coral reefs from Cairns to Papua New Guinea reveal that the most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching.
The majority of those coral reefs is even ranked in the most severe bleaching category.
Sky News reported that each of the 74 surveyed coral reefs between Townsville and Cairns was bleached by 25 to 30 percent on average.
Researchers are now even more alarmed when they discovered that the southern limit of the bleaching is farther than expected.
"This has been the saddest research trip of my life," said Prof. Terry Hughes, convener of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce in a statement.
"Even more concerning, we haven't yet found the southern limit of the bleaching," he added.
With coral bleaching, corals expel the colorful photosynthetic algae that provide them energy. As a result, the corals turn white.
The algae can return and colonize the coral again once the water temperature is back to normal. However, if it remains to be warmer than usual, the coral will die without it.
As per a Weather Network report, Dr. Jodie Rummer, a senior research fellow at the ARC Centre, said the combination of El Niño, climate change and extended summer days are the main factors contributing to the mass bleaching of the corals.
Prof. Justin Marshall, a reef scientist from the University of Queensland, said in an ABC News report that what we are seeing now is the effect of climate change.
"The world has agreed, this is climate change, we're seeing climate change play out across our reefs," Prof. Marshall added.
Losing the great reef would be a big blow to our environment, and to our existence, in general. Stretching 2,300 kilometers, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a huge number of marine creatures, some having existed even since prehistoric time.
According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the vast ecosystem is the home of around 3,000 coral reefs and 1,625 types of fish, among other marine creatures.