Areas of the Great Barrier Reef show the most coral cover seen in 36 years

In this photo provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Hardy Reef is seen from the air near the Whitsunday Islands, Australia.

Giant Aerial Photography | Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via AP

Two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef saw the most coral cover in nearly four decades, though the reef is still vulnerable to climate change and mass bleaching, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

The northern and central parts of the reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have seen some recovery, while the southern region has seen a loss of coral cover due to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, according to a report. of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. a government agency.

AIMS CEO Paul Hardisty said that while the coral in the northern and central regions was a sign that the reef could recover from disturbance, the loss of coral in the southern region demonstrated how the reef is still vulnerable to ” ongoing acute and severe disturbances that are occurring. more often and are longer lasting.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from severe and widespread coral reef bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures. The reef was particularly hard hit in 2016 and 2017 by underwater heat waves that triggered bleaching events. This year it is undergoing a sixth massive bleaching due to heat stress caused by climate change.

“Every summer, the reef is at risk of temperature stress, bleaching, and potentially mortality, and our understanding of how the ecosystem responds is still developing,” Hardisty said in a news release.

“The 2020 and 2022 bleaching events, while extensive, did not reach the intensity of the 2016 and 2017 events, and we have seen less mortality as a result,” Hardisty said. “These latest results demonstrate that the Reef can still recover in periods free of intense disturbance.”

The report comes after UNESCO proposed last year to add the Great Barrier Reef to a list of world heritage sites that are in danger. A meeting to discuss the future of the reef was supposed to be held in Russia in June, but it was canceled after the invasion of Ukraine.

In the central and northern regions, hard coral cover reached 33% and 36% this year, respectively, the highest level recorded in the last 36 years of monitoring, according to the report. Meanwhile, region-wide hard coral cover on southern area reefs fell to 34% this year, compared to 38% the year before.

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