Scientists from James Cook University have confirmed the Great Barrier Reef experienced the largest die-off of corals ever recorded.
The latest mass coral-bleaching event has left large parts of the Australian icon devastated – while several previously-damaged southern sections were spared the worst this time.
The northern region of the Great Barrier Reef lost an average of 67 per cent – or two-thirds – of its shallow-water corals in 2016, while the vast central and southern regions largely survived.
“Most of the losses have occurred in the northern, most pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University.
Scientists now expect that the northern region will take at least 10-15 years to regain the lost corals.
That slow recovery could be even slower if concerns about a fourth bleaching event is realised.
The one silver lining is that the southern two-thirds of the Reef suffered only minor damage.
“On average, six per cent of bleached corals died in the central region in 2016, and only one per cent in the south. The corals have now regained their vibrant colour, and these reefs are in good condition,” says the ARC Centre’s Professor Andrew Baird.
Professor Baird led teams of divers to re-survey the reefs in October and November.
Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef employs 70,000 people, and generates $5 billion in income each year. Find out more about the team’s findings here. Story credit: James Cook University newsroom
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