Scientists say Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its most severe coral bleaching event in March.
Coral are small marine animals that live together and form large hard structures called reefs. Bleaching usually happens when ocean water gets too warm causing corals to release the healthy algae living in their tissues. The process turns coral white and makes them sick, sometimes killing them.
Reefs are critically important to the health of the ocean and all the life it holds.
The latest finding about coral bleaching came from researchers at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef covers about 348,000 square kilometers. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs and is home to thousands of different kinds of sea life.
Researchers say the most recent coral bleaching event is the result of extremely hot temperatures in the area over the past few months.
Terry Hughes is director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. He told the Reuters news agency that February had the highest temperatures since 1900, when record keeping began.
“We saw record-breaking temperatures all along the length of the Great Barrier Reef, there wasn’t a cool portion in the north, or a cool portion in the south this time around,” Hughes said.
“The whole Barrier Reef was hot so the bleaching we have seen this year is the most extensive so far.” Hughes added that he is now almost sure that the reef cannot recover to what it looked like even five years ago, let alone thirty years ago.
Hughes warned that if global warming activity continues at the present rate, the Great Barrier Reef faces the possibility of becoming completely destroyed.
“We will have some sort of tropical ecosystem, but it won’t look like coral reef - there might be more seaweed, more sponges, a lot less coral - but it will be a very different ecosystem.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Reuters news agency reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
algae – n. a simple plant that grows in or near water
portion – n. a part of something
extensive – adj. large in amount or size
ecosystem – n. a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment