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National Coral Bleaching Taskforce keeping a close watch on the Reef

National Coral Bleaching Taskforce keeping a close watch on the Reef


minor bleaching observed on Davies Reef on central GBR. Image: N. Cantin/AIMS

MEDIA RELEASE 

01 March 2016  I  PDF (382 KB)

Minor, but widespread, reports of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef are being closely watched by the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, which is concerned about current trends and remains ready to respond should a major coral bleaching event take place.

Taskforce convener, Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, explains that “current reports of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef do not equate to a mass bleaching event, but we are concerned about a growing incidence of minor to moderate bleaching at multiple locations along the Reef as the peak of summer approaches.”

Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as heightened sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called ‘zooxanthellae’. The loss of these colourful algae causes the corals to turn white, and ‘bleach’. Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise the coral may die.

“The latest Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecasts suggest that we could see significant above average temperatures through the month of March, which may mean more bleaching ahead for corals on the Great Barrier Reef unless we get some windy and cloudy weather soon,” says Dr Janice Lough, Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and member of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce.

“We remain hopeful that there is not enough time now for the Reef to undergo a mass bleaching as it did in 1998 or 2002,” says Prof. Hughes, “however, we established the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce precisely because of the risk of such a scenario taking place this year. We have been closely monitoring conditions on Australia’s coral reefs for the past six months.

“The best outcome is that the bleaching doesn’t get any worse, but if it becomes more widespread, we are ready to mobilise a network of scientists to document the extent of the bleaching, which will help us understand how the Reef is responding to successive major bleaching events.”

The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce is designed to co-ordinate research effort among Australia’s marine science community in the event of a mass bleaching event in Australia. The taskforce draws together 10 research institutions across Australia to co-ordinate the efforts of over 300 scientists.

The associated research institutions are, ARC Centre of Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, James Cook University, NOAA, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, and WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

 

Further information please contact:

Prof Terry Hughes, Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Convener National Coral Bleaching Taskforce +61 (0)400 720 164 or +61 (07) 4781 4000 (AEST) or terry.hughes@jcu.edu.au

Dr Janice Lough, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science +61 (07) 4753 4248 (AEST) or j.lough@aims.gov.au

Dr James Gilmour, Experimental Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science +61 (0) 439 914 958 (AWST) or j.gilmour@aims.gov.au

Images of coral bleached/unbleached and captions are available here.