Wildlife

Great Barrier Reef Rescue Plan

A giant starfish-eating snail could be unleashed to help save the Great Barrier Reef, officials said on Monday, with a trial underway to breed thousands of the rare species.

Predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, which munch coral, are naturally-occurring, but have proliferated due to pollution and agricultural run-off at the struggling World Heritage-listed ecosystem. Their impact has been profound with a major study of the 2 300km long reef’s health in 2012 showing coral cover halved over the past 27 years, with 42% of the damage attributed to the pest.

Now Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) research has shown they avoid areas where the Pacific triton sea snail – also known as the giant triton – is present. The snails – which can grow to half a metre – have a well developed sense of smell and can hunt their prey by scent alone. Research showed they were particularly fond of crown-of-thorns, but only eat a few each week, and with the snail almost hunted to extinction for their shells, there are not many left.

This led the Australian government to on Monday announce funding to research breeding them, the ultimate aim to deploy them to control the crown-of-thorns pest.

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Global Warming

Scientists find evidence of coral bleaching at iconic Heart Reef

Scientists claim they have found evidence of coral bleaching on one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most iconic landmarks, Heart Reef in the Whitsundays. They say it’s been caused by an extreme heatwave around the time of Cyclone Debbie.

The devastating storm itself missed the heart-shaped reef but it smashed other significant coral systems nearby. Just 18km away at Baits Reef, entire sections have been decimated. It’s been reduced to rubble, with barely any signs of life.

Experts say the reef is resilient and will bounce back, but it does take years and the more cyclones we have, the more vulnerable our global treasure becomes.

Global Warming

Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved

The Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved in its present form partly because of the “extraordinary rapidity” of climate change, experts have conceded.

Like coral across the world, the reef has been severely damaged by the warming of the oceans with up to 95 per cent of areas surveyed in 2016 found to have been bleached.

Bleaching is not always fatal but a study last year found the “largest die-off of corals ever recorded” with about 67 per cent of shallow water coral found dead in a survey of a 700km stretch.

Now experts on a committee set up by the Australian government to improve the health of the reef have revealed that they believe the lesser target of maintaining its “ecological function” is more realistic.

The concept of ‘maintaining ecological function’ refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today.

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Wildlife

Cyclone Debbie Demolishes Great Barrier Reef

As severe bleaching wreaks havoc on the coral, the Great Barrier Reef has had to deal with another devastating blow — Cyclone Debbie.

Fierce 260kph winds tore through the Whitsunday Islands before making landfall at Airlie Beach, and news.com.au went underwater to see the destruction first hand.

The once dazzlingly beautiful coral has been reduced to rubble by the cyclone, the diverse life that dived between its delicate fronds wiped out, with bloodied pieces of dead fish lying on the seabed.

Branches have snapped off and huge pieces of coral lifted up and thrown aside as Debbie raged through the reef.

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Global Warming

Great Barrier Reef ‘cooking and dying’ as seas heat up

More than two-thirds of the coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is experiencing “shocking” amounts of bleaching, new aerial surveys have revealed.

Reefs of of Lizard Island before and after bleaching

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Back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated a 1,500 km (900 miles) stretch of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Australian scientists told CNN Monday. Before 2016 there had only been two bleaching events along the Great Barrier Reef in the past two decades, in 1998 and 2002.

Last year’s bleaching event, the worst on record, mainly affected the north of the reef, while the recent damage has mostly impacted the middle sections. The bottom third of the reef is now the only section that has escaped significant bleaching.

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A temperature rise of only one or two degrees above the maximum average for up to “three or four weeks” is enough to push corals out of their comfort zone. When it’s so hot for this extended period of time the corals don’t just bleach, they cook and they die very quickly.

Mature staghorn coral near Lizard Island, after coral bleaching (February) and then after death when it has been consumed by seaweed (April).

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Global Warming

Great Barrier Reef – Australia’s Coral Ecosystem Dying But Not Yet Dead

The Great Barrier Reef is in serious trouble. Despite being under severe stress like most other coral structures around the world, however, the coral ecosystem spanning 1,400 miles off Australia’s coast is not yet dead.

In response to reports that the vast ecosystem is dead, scientists said that the world’s largest coral reef system may be dying but it is not yet dead.

Last week, food and travel writer Rowan Jacobsen wrote a tongue-in-cheek obituary for Australia’s famed network of reefs on Outside Magazine that generated responses from news outlets and social media users, many of whom mourned for the supposed passing of what is considered as the largest living thing on Earth.

“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old,” Jacobsen wrote.

It is undeniable that the Great Barrier Reef is on life support. A comprehensive reef survey has showed that 93 percent of the reef network is affected by bleaching putting it at risk of extinction. Bleaching happens when corals are subjected to extreme stress such as changes in conditions like light, nutrients and temperature, which cause the corals to expel symbiotic algae from their tissue and in turn cause them to turn white.

Rising water systems primarily driven by climate change is widely attributed for the damages on the Great Barrier Reef.

Scientists, however, are worried that the over-exaggeration of the state of the reef may promote the idea that it is already past the point of recovery. Although most parts of the Great Barrier Reef have been affected by bleaching, not all have died and scientists hope that large areas of the ecosystem will recover. Large sections of it (the southern half) escaped from the 2016 bleaching, and are in reasonable shape.

Wildlife

Swathes Of The Great Barrier Reef Suffer ‘Complete Ecosystem Collapse’

It’s been a wretched year for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure and one of the most complex natural ecosystems on Earth.

The area suffered the worst bleaching event ever, one that impacted over 90 percent of the reef and killed more than a third of its corals. Earlier this year, shocking photos and video revealed total devastation in parts of the reef.

Now, entire swathes of the Great Barrier Reef are suffering from “complete ecosystem collapse,” marine researcher Justin Marshall said after spending a week conducting surveys near Lizard Island in the northern region of the reef.

“The lack of fish was the most shocking thing,” Marshall told The Guardian. “In broad terms, I was seeing a lot less than 50 percent of what was there [before the bleaching]. Some species I wasn’t seeing at all.” Previously-common fish species in the area like the black-and-white striped humbug damselfish and green chromis had almost completely disappeared, said Marshall.

Wildlife

Coral Bleaching

Mass bleaching has killed more than a third of the coral in the northern and central parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, though corals to the south have escaped with little damage, scientists said on Monday.

Researchers who conducted months of aerial and underwater surveys of the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef off Australia’s east coast found that around 35 percent of the coral in the northern and central sections of the reef are dead or dying, said Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland state. And some parts of the reef had lost more than half of the coral to bleaching.

The extent of the damage, which has occurred in just the past couple of months, has serious implications, Hughes said. Though bleached corals that haven’t died can recover if the water temperature drops, older corals take longer to bounce back and likely won’t have a chance to recover before the next bleaching event occurs, he said. Coral that has died is gone for good, which affects other creatures that rely on it for food and shelter.

The damage is part of a massive bleaching event that has been impacting reefs around the world for the past two years. Experts say the bleaching has been triggered by global warming and El Nino, a warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide. Hot water puts stress on coral, causing it to turn white and become vulnerable to disease. Other reefs have suffered even more severely from the recent bleaching; Some Pacific islands, for example, have reported coral death rates of more than 80 percent.

This April, 2016 photo released Monday, May 30, 2016 shows mature stag-horn coral dead and overgrown by algae at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef.

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Wildlife

Polar Bears – Swimming Fatigue

Researchers have confirmed that polar bears are being forced to swim more frequently and for much longer distances as sea ice around the North Pole experiences more extensive melt under the influence of climate change.

A team from the University of Alberta, Climate Change Canada and the Zoological Society of San Diego used GPS tags placed on bears in the Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay to determine their altered swimming behaviour.

Study co-author Andrew Derocher says that the longer swims are particularly hard on mothers with cubs, possibly explaining the decline in the number of bears in the southern Beaufort Sea.

Great Barrier Reef Devastated by Coral Bleaching

We knew coral bleaching was a serious issue in the Great Barrier Reef, but the scope of just how widespread it was has been unclear — until now.

Extensive aerial surveys and dives have revealed that 93 percent of the world’s largest reef has been devastated by coral bleaching. The culprit has been record-warm water driven by El Niño and climate change that has cooked the life out of corals.

The Centre conducted aerial surveys and dives at 911 sites spanning the full 1,430-mile length of the reef. They show the hardest hit areas are in the northern part of the reefs, which have also endured some of the hottest water temperatures for prolonged periods.

More than 80 percent of reefs surveyed there showed signs of severe bleaching. The southern end of the reef fared better, but overall the bleaching represents a massive blow to biodiversity at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Barrier Reef also faces pressure from ocean acidification and fishing impacts, ramping up concerns over how to protect one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

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Vietnam investigates mass fish deaths

Vietnam said on Thursday said it was investigating whether pollution is to blame for a spate of mysterious mass fish deaths along the country’s central coast after huge amounts of marine life washed ashore in recent days.

Tons of fish, including rare species which live far offshore and in the deep, have been discovered on beaches along the country’s central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Hue.

The strange situation first came to light when farmed fish in the area began dying in great numbers, he said, with locals later discovering huge numbers of dead fish on beaches.

Signs point to t.he fish having been poisoned by “unidentified substances,” Tran Dinh Du, deputy director of agriculture in Quang Binh province, said.

Central Ha Tinh province is home to a sprawling economic zone which houses numerous industrial plants, including a multi-billion dollar steel plant run by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa.

Hanoi has dispatched teams of environmental experts and officials to investigate the phenomenon.

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Global Warming

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching more widespread than first thought

New aerial surveys have found the devastating coral bleaching event hitting the Great Barrier Reef has a larger footprint than initially thought.

Professor Terry Hughes, who is part of a national coral bleaching taskforce, said research flights on Wednesday between Townsville and Cairns had observed differing levels of bleaching across all 74 reefs that had been surveyed in the region.

That comes on top of the significantly more severe bleaching seen further north on more than 500 reefs surveyed by plane and helicopter last week along a 1000 kilometre stretch from Cairns to the Torres Strait.

“When we initially headed north from Cairns we thought we would encounter a southern border [of the bleaching event] and beyond that in the far north things would get bad,” Professor Hughes said. “We still haven’t found the southern border. We will find it. It is just taking longer than we expected because the footprint of this is substantially bigger than was initially reported.”

Professor Hughes said on the 74 reefs surveyed on Wednesday corals were on average bleached by about 25 to 30 per cent.

Those results are less severe than what has been seen on the reefs north of Port Douglas, where Professor Hughes said the average bleaching was closer to 75 per cent.

In total, Professor Hughes said half the Great Barrier Reef had been severely bleached in the event.

The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce has found record levels of bleaching on the Great Barrirer Reef. An aerial survey photo of a reef in the northern stretches of the Great Barrier Reef last week where the bleaching is most severe. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority last week reported coral death rates of 50 per cent on the reefs in the inner Cape York region.

Professor Hughes said it was known there was no bleaching at the southern tip of the reef from research at Heron Island near Gladstone, adding he hoped the boundary of the bleaching event would be found not too far below Townsville in coming days.

The bleaching has been caused by substantially warmer ocean temperatures than normal. In the northern waters of the Great Barrier Reef sea temperatures have been more than one degree higher than the long-term average in recent months.

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Wildlife

Coral bleaching at Barrier Reef: ‘severe’

Australian authorities said Sunday coral bleaching occurring in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef had become “severe”, the highest alert level, as sea temperatures warm.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said while the bleaching at this stage was not as severe as in 1998 and 2002, also El Nino-related events, “it is however, in the northern parts a cause for concern”.

“The reef is 2,300 kilometres (1,429 miles) long and the bottom three-quarters is in strong condition, but as we head north, it becomes increasingly prone to bleaching,” Hunt said after an aerial tour of some of the affected areas Sunday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

“Essentially what you could see was patches of coral bleaching as you approached Lizard Island (located in the Barrier Reef).”

The reef — the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystem — is already struggling from the threat of climate change, as well as farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

Wildlife

Great Barrier Reef’s Biggest Threat is Coal

A recent report found that the Great Barrier Reef had lost 50% of its living coral. This was mainly from cyclones and the damages of Crown of Thorns starfish. Then there are the new threats of coral bleaching and acidification.

This issue of coal lies at the heart of current threats to the Great Barrier Reef, and symbolizes an economic mindset that reef lovers everywhere are up against. Our government has decided that Australia’s economic future lies in selling cheap coal to China and India. To do this the Federal and Queensland state governments need to expand existing coal ports on the Reef because these provide the cheapest and quickest shipping routes to Asia.

Quite apart from discouraging investment in renewable energy by backing fossil fuels, this decision has fraught implications for the health of the Reef and its waters.

Because the reef is too shallow for massive container ships, the new coal ports all entail extensive dredging of the seafloor. Thankfully public agitation has temporarily deflected the government’s original plan to dump three million cubic meters of dredged silt from Abbot Point into the reef channel, where it would choke corals and swamp sea grasses. Even so, dredging will stir up immense amounts of sediment as well as coral-threatening bacteria.

The vastly increased tonnage of container ships churning up and down the tricky reef channel represents a further threat from reef accidents and oil spillages, both of which have occurred a number of times in the recent past. There are plans, too, for several new mega-sized coal mines to be opened nearby, requiring similar access to the Great Barrier coastline and lagoon.

To call this policy short-sighted is an understatement. It sacrifices one of the wonders of the world and a substantial economic asset for Australian tourism; and this at a time when even China is trying to wean itself from using polluting coal.

Coal may prove to be an even bigger threat than the crown of thorns starfish which wasted coral reefs all along Australia – because it is something the reef has never seen and it is on an industrial scale that could threaten even this biggest biological structure on Earth. And all to help China pollute their own air! What happens after you build all these ports, you export the coal and China turns to their vast supplies of natural gas? Dead reef and a dead exporting business!

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Wildlife

US Jets Drop Bombs on Great Barrier Reef

US fighter jets dropped inert bombs on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast during a training exercise that went wrong, it has emerged.

The two planes jettisoned four bombs in more than 50m (165 ft) of water, away from coral, to minimise damage to the World Heritage Site, the US navy said.

The two jets had been instructed to target the bombing range on Townshend Island.

However, the mission was aborted when hazards were reported in the area.

The planes then dropped the bombs in the marine park off the coast of Queensland. None of the devices exploded.

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Environment

Australian Government Pledges To Protect Great Barrier Reef

The Australian government has pledged to stop coal port or shipping developments that would cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef as it responded to a Friday deadline amid U.N. warnings that the reef’s conservation status could be downgraded.

UNESCO warned last June that the World Heritage Site could be listed as “in danger” if there was no evidence of progress by Feb. 1 on protecting the reef from threats that also include climate change and the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, which is wearing away the world’s largest living structure.

“The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic Australian environmental asset, the government is absolutely committed to the protection of the reef and our oceans,” said Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke as he released the country’s report to UNESCO. “We will not cut corners or give an inch on protecting it.”

Heralded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the 2,000 km (1,200 mile) Great Barrier Reef is home to 400 types of coral, 240 species of birds and 1,500 species of fish. It is worth A$6 billion a year in tourism to the local economy.

But coal is one of Australia’s top export earners and the state of Queensland is the country’s largest coal producer. The reef faces growing threats from shipping driven by coal project expansions.

UNESCO, which gave the reef World Heritage status in 1991, made a number of proposals to the national and Queensland state governments on managing the reef, such as halting further port construction and limiting ship numbers.

Environment

A study released on Sunday suggests that fish are likely to get smaller on average by 2050 because global warming will cut the amount of oxygen in the oceans in a shift that may also mean dwindling catches.

Average maximum body weights for 600 types of marine fish, such as cod, plaice, halibut and flounder, would contract by 14-24 percent by 2050 in circumstances of the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Life will become harder for fish in the oceans largely because warmer water can hold less dissolved oxygen, vital for respiration and growth.

Average maximum sizes of fish in the Indian Ocean were likely to shrink most, by 24 percent, followed by a decline of 20 percent in the Atlantic and 14 percent in the Pacific. The Indian Ocean has most tropical waters of the three.

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral cover in the past 27 years.

Researchers analysed data on the condition of 217 individual reefs that make up the World Heritage Site.

The results show that coral cover declined from 28.0% to 13.8% between 1985 and 2012.

They attribute the decline to storms, a coral-feeding starfish and bleaching linked to climate change.