Hot Southern Summer Threatens Coral With Massive Bleaching Event

A widespread and severe coral bleaching episode is predicted to cause immense damage to some of the world’s most important marine environments over the next few months.

A report from the US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts severe bleaching for parts of the Coral Sea, which lies adjacent to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Triangle, a 5.4 million square kilometre expanse of ocean in the Indo-Pacific which is considered the centre of the world’s marine life.

“This forecast bleaching episode will be caused by increased water temperatures and is the kind of event we can expect on a regular basis if average global temperatures rise above 2 degrees,” said Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader for WWF’s Coral Triangle Program.

The bleaching, predicted to occur between now and February, could have a devastating impact on coral reef ecosystems, killing coral and destroying food chains. There would be severe impacts for communities in Australia and the region, who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods.

The Coral Triangle, stretching from the Philippines to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, is home to 75 per cent of all known coral species. More than 120 million people rely on its marine resources.

“Regular bleaching episodes in this part of the world will have a massive impact on the region’s ability to sustain local communities,” said Leck. “In the Pacific many of the Small Island Developing States, such as the Solomon Islands, rely largely on the coast and coastal environments such as coral reefs for food supply. This is a region where alternative sources of income and food are limited.

“Time is crucial and Australia needs to step up to the plate. Following the government’s lack of resolve to seriously reduce future domestic carbon emissions, Australia has a huge role to play in assisting Coral Triangle countries and people to adapt to the changes in their climate.“

The Australian government this week announced a 2020 target for reducing its greenhouse gas pollution by 5 per cent, which WWF criticised as completely inadequate. Reductions of at least 25 per cent by 2020 are needed to set the world on a pathway to meaningful cuts in greenhouse pollution.

Australia’s Coral Sea, which will also be affected by coral bleaching and climate change, is a pristine marine wilderness covering almost 1,000,000 square kilometres and is extraordinarily rich in marine life, including sharks and turtles, with a series of spectacular reefs rising thousands of metres from the sea floor.

WWF is urging the Australian government to declare the Coral Sea a marine protected area, as well as working to establish a network of marine protected areas that will assist ocean environments to adapt to the changes caused by rising temperatures, and to absorb the impacts from human activity.

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