Coral Rebounds to Record Levels for Great Barrier Reef

Survey finds strong growth in large swaths, but also warns of vulnerability
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2022 11:08 AM CDT
For Great Barrier Reef, Some Rare Good News
In this 2014 photo, the Hardy Reef is viewed from the air near the Whitsunday Islands in Australia.   (Jumbo Aerial Photography/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via AP)

News out of the Great Barrier Reef generally has been pretty bleak of late, so much so that the UN is considering listing the World Heritage Site as endangered. However, a major new survey of the ecosystem by the Australian Institute of Marine Science has welcome news for those worried about its health: Roughly two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef has coral cover at highs never before seen since record-keeping began in 1985, reports NBC News. Specifically, coral cover in the northern region of the 1,700-mile system grew from a low of 13% in 2017 to 36% in 2022, and cover in the central region grew from a low of 12% in 2019 to 33% in 2022. However, the southern region reflected a dip, down to 34% from 38% in 2021.

The overall numbers show that the reef "is still vibrant and still resilient, and it can bounce back from disturbances if it gets the chance," AIMS researcher Mike Emslie tells the Washington Post. The survey, however, made clear that the reef remains vulnerable to bleaching—a process in which warm water temperatures stress the corals and cause them to expel the algae that gives the reef its distinctive colors, per the BBC. Researchers pointed out that much of the new coral cover is composed of Acropora corals, which are particularly vulnerable to bleaching, strong waves, and crown-of-thorns starfish, which feast on the reefs within the system. "This means that ... future disturbance can reverse the observed recovery in a short amount of time," says Emslie. (More Great Barrier Reef stories.)

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