May 23, 2024

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Parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef show highest coral cover in 36 years

Parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef show highest coral cover in 36 years

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has shown the most coral cover in 36 years, but reefs remain vulnerable to increased frequent mass bleaching, an official long-term monitoring program reported on Thursday. .

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) said recovery in the central and northern stretches of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed coral reef contrasts with the southern region, where there has been a loss of coral cover due to an outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish (AIMS). in its annual report.

“What we’re seeing is that the Great Barrier Reef remains a resilient system. It still maintains this ability to recover from disturbances,” AIMS Monitoring Program Leader Mike Emsley told Reuters.

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“But the worrying thing is that the frequency of these disturbance events is increasing, particularly mass coral bleaching events,” he said.

The report comes as UNESCO is considering whether to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, following a visit by UNESCO experts in March. A meeting of the World Heritage Committee where the fate of the corals was on the agenda was scheduled to take place in Russia in June but was postponed.

In a key measure of coral reef health, AIMS identifies hard coral cover of more than 30% as a high value, based on long-term reef surveys.

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In the northern region, average hard coral cover grew to 36% in 2022 from a low of 13% in 2017, while in the central region hard coral cover rose to 33% from a low of 12% in 2019 – higher Levels have been recorded for both areas since the institute began monitoring the reef in 1985.

However, in the southern region, which generally has a higher hard coral cover than the other two regions, cover fell to 34% in 2022 from 38% the previous year.

The recovery comes after the fourth mass bleaching in seven years and the first during the La Nina event, which usually brings temperatures down. Despite the breadth of bleaching, the institute said, bleaching in 2020 and 2022 was not as harmful as it was in 2016 and 2017.

On the downside, growth in cover has been driven by Acropora corals, which AIMS said are particularly vulnerable to wave damage, heat stress and prickly starfish.

“We’re really in uncharted waters when it comes to the effects of bleaching and what it means going forward. But even today, it’s still a great place,” Emsley said.

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Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and James Redmayne in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.