‘Warning Bells Going Off’ as NOAA Forecasts Entire Great Barrier Reef at Risk of Coral Bleaching and Death

By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

“This is a wake-up call,” says one Australian marine biologist.
“Given sea temperatures usually increase as we get towards March,
this is probably conservative.”

coral reefDelivering yet another
wake-up
call
” after recent
studies
have shown that heat stress from anthropogenic global
warming has killed half of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals since
2016, a new
analysis
from U.S. scientists warns that the entirety of
world’s largest coral system is at risk of bleaching and death as
Australia enters it summer months.

The forecast from U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) for November 2018 to February 2019 indicates
that the whole reef has a 60 percent chance of reaching “alert
level one,” under which bleaching is “likely.”

When coral is exposed to warm water or pollution, it expels the
algae living in its tissues—its main source of food—and turns
completely white. Although bleached coral is still alive, the
reaction
makes it more susceptible to disease and death.

“This is really the first warning bells going off that we are
heading for an extraordinarily warm summer and there’s a very
good chance that we’ll lose parts of the reef that we didn’t
lose in the past couple of years,” marine biologist Ove
Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the
University of Queensland in Australia,
told
the Guardian. “These are not good predictions and this
is a wake-up call.”

Hoegh-Guldberg expressed concern that the analysis shows
bleaching could occur before March, which historically has been the
main month for such events. “To really have the full picture
we’re going to have to wait for those projections that cover the
main part of bleaching season,” he said. “Given sea
temperatures usually increase as we get towards March, this is
probably conservative.”

While NOAA’s predictions provoked alarm, Mark Eakin, head of
the agency’s Coral Reef Watch, noted that “lots of things,
including major weather patterns, can change the probabilities over
the next three months.”

Although “it’s much too early to predict that with any
certainty,” Eakin
told
Australia’s ABC that “depending on what happens with
the El Niño,” or the
warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical
Pacific Ocean, “we could see another global bleaching event in
2019” that would impact not only the Great Barrier Reef but also
other coral systems across the globe.

Regardless of whether an El Niño emerges and triggers another
bleaching event, scientists are urging governments to heed the
urgent warnings of the recent
IPCC report
—which detailed what the world could look like if
the global temperature rises 1.5°C versus 2°C (2.7°F versus
3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels—and ramp up efforts to avert
climate catastrophe.

The IPCC report found that coral reefs “are expected to
decline by a further 70 to 90 percent even under 1.5ºC, but that
rises to more than 99 percent reef loss as temperature rises hit
2ºC,” according to ABC. “Researchers say at current emissions
rates, the world will hit that point between 10 and 14 years from
now.”

NOAA’s new forecast for bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is
“very consistent with what the IPCC 1.5 degree report told us,”
concluded Hoegh-Guldberg. “It’s extremely important that
politicians and our leaders stand up and make the changes we need
to make so we don’t tread down an even more dangerous
path.”

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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
‘Warning Bells Going Off’ as NOAA Forecasts Entire Great Barrier Reef at Risk of Coral Bleaching and Death