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Great Barrier Reef, new photos show the extent of coral bleaching

Nuove foto scattate vicino a Palm Island documentano il fenomeno dello sbiancamento dei coralli che minaccia la sopravvivenza di questo straordinario ecosistema.

Barrier reefs are magnificent constructions, actual living cathedrals built by tiny creatures – the polyps. The greatest example of these natural works of art is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which stretches for over 2,400 kilometres reaching a thickness of 150 metres. In just over 30 years, however, the Great Barrier Reef, which is home to thousands of different species, is likely to be reduced to eroding rubble.

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Bleaching and ocean acidification aren’t the only threats to coral reefs. Overfishing, uncontrolled dumping and deforestation could be deadly to them © Phil Walter/Getty Images

Disappearing corals

Researchers suggest that coral reefs, which evolved throughout different geological eras, won’t survive human-related activities and will be the first ecosystems to go extinct in the modern age. As a matter of fact, corals in the Caribbean have decreased by 80 per cent.

What is coral bleaching

One of the main causes of the accelerating decline of coral reefs is coral bleaching. The first evidence of bleaching has been recorded in the early 1990s and the phenomenon is estimated to intensify in connection with rising temperatures.

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A study conducted in 2008 on more than 800 species of coral has found one third of the species to be threatened with extinction © Australian Marine Conservation Society

When water temperature rises, the symbiotic connection between corals and their dwellers – the zooxanthellae – breaks. Due to an unusual chemical reaction corals send away the zooxanthellae (which give corals their peculiar colour), and start becoming white, stop growing and, therefore, die.

New bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has documented a new bleaching near Palm Island and provided photographic material to UK newspaper The Guardian. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most of the Great Barrier Reef could face yet more severe bleaching in the coming month, as unusually hot temperatures have been registered off Eastern Australia. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority claimed that water temperature from Cape Tribulation to Townsville was 2 degrees warmer than the average of the period.

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Without corals, the biodiversity living in these ecosystem would die © Australian Marine Conservation Society

Reducing emissions to save barrier reefs

On the basis of NOAA’s predictions, the barrier reef could face higher risks of mortality in the coming month. Great Barrier Reef’s campaign director Imogen Zethoven said that “the 1 billion dollars reef fund announced by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in June last year was a cynical rebadging exercise undercut by its support for fossil fuel initiatives that will spell catastrophe for the reef. It’s immoral that those of us who are making our living from a healthy environment are paying taxes to subsidise infrastructure that’s going to cause climate change in a major way for the next 50 years,” he said. “If this all goes ahead, we’re basically dooming our tourism industry.”

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