Scientists: Warming water “cooking” Great Barrier Reef

Coral recovery can take more than a decade

(CNN) – The Great Barrier Reef is home to the world’s largest collection of coral, with around 400 types of coral and 1500 species of fish. But now scientists say, it’s dying at an alarming rate.

The cause they say? Global warming.

It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. A vibrant underwater eco-system of coral and sea-life that’s roughly the size of Italy – so huge you can actually see it from space.

But scientists are sounding the alarm.

They say for the second year in a row this sprawling underwater treasure is bleaching on a massive scale.

A new study by Australia’s ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, shows approximately two-thirds of the reef is suffering.

The ARC Center’s Sean Connolly said, “It’s quite terrifying actually, the magnitude and severity of the event.” Connolly is one of a team of scientists who’ve been surveying the damage.

He said, “A coral is a partnership between an animal – which is what builds the skeleton and constructs the reefs that you see – and the tiny one celled algae or plants which live inside it. Hot temperatures cause that relationship to become toxic.”

His team released footage of barren expanses of coral bleached bone white in some cases turning a drab, lifeless brown. Look at the before and after contrast of coral gone from healthy to bleached.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef biologist with the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, says the coral is basically suffering from heat stroke. She said, “What’s happening with climate change is the baseline temperature is getting warmer and warmer so any little increase in temperature caused by local weather conditions then adds on top of the global warming and then kicks off this bleaching event. So the global warming is caused by people is providing the conditions that make bleaching happen.”

The Great Barrier Reef is more than just home to thousands of species of fish, birds, coral, whales and dolphins. It’s also a major tourist attraction that earns Australia $3.7 billion a year.

To add to the bad news, a big part of the reef that escaped bleaching was pounded by tropical cyclone Debbie last month.

Scientists say coral can recover from bleaching. The problem is, that recovery can take more than a decade. This is the second straight year that we’re seeing bleaching on a mass scale on the Great Barrier Reef. Experts say the coral is literally cooking and dying due to change in the ocean’s temperature.

Australia’s government launched an unprecedented effort to invest more than a billion and a half dollars to try and protect the Great Barrier Reef.

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