bleached reef survey.
Original Published Date: 
Monday, June 8, 2020

Original article issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, led by former Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Terry Hughes, have been mapping the extent of the latest coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

They have found that the 2020 bleaching event, which was caused by above average ocean temperatures during the hottest month on record since records began in 1900, affected the reef more extensively than previous mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. Unlike previous events, in 2020 corals were bleached along the entire length of the reef, including in southern sections which had been until then only mildly affected by bleaching.

Professor Hughes says that if bleaching continues, with short periods of time between successive bleaching events, the Great Barrier Reef as we know it will no longer exist.

"We will have some sort of tropical ecosystem, but it won’t look like a coral reef, there might be more seaweed, more sponges, a lot less coral, it will be a very different ecosystem," said Professor Hughes.

Professor Hughes and his research team have been dedicated to recording the extent of bleaching, by conducting coastal surveys from the air and in the water after each bleaching event in recent years, to inform our comprehension of the threat of climate change to coral reefs in general and the Great Barrier Reef in particular.

Photo credit: 

Surveying the bleached reef from the air, March 2020. Credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.