THE 2016 CORAL BLEACHING EVENT IN AUSTRALIA
Summer temperatures in February-April 2016 have caused severe and widespread coral bleaching in Australia. On the east coast, this is the third mass bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and 93% of reefs have been affected. In the remote northern 1000km sector of the GBR, >80% of reefs have been severely bleached with heavy losses of corals, and only 1% are untouched. Compared to earlier mass bleaching in 1998 and 2002, 2016 is much more severe, with 50-80% coral mortality recorded on northern reefs. The geographic footprint of each of the three events has been different, with each one explained by where the hottest temperatures occurred. Based on aerial and underwater surveys of >1000 reefs in 2016 and 650 reefs in 1998 and 2002, we can now identify reefs that have bleached 0, 1, 2 or 3 times, and examine their attributes. Over time progressively fewer GBR reefs have escaped bleaching, and because of the severity of the most recent event, hundreds of reefs have bleached for the first time in 2016. For the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, we have already entered an era when the return time of mass bleaching caused by global warming is shorter than the recovery time of long-lived coral assemblages.
Hughes, T., ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia, email@example.com
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