After two weeks of unprecedented coral bleaching, the Great Australian Barrier Reef is expected to be completely submerged.
The latest research published in the journal Marine Biology, reveals that bleaching events have been increasing in intensity, with the largest bleaching event in the past 10 years.
The coral reefs are currently at the lowest stage of recovery in more than a century.
“This is the first time since the 1960s that the Great Antarctic Barrier Reef has seen this much coral bleached in the last 10 years,” said lead author of the study, Professor John Fotheringham.
It is the second major coral bleach event in Australia, following the 2010 event, which killed an estimated 40,000 coral and caused a $30 million ($40 million) hole in the Great Barrington Marine Park.
Professor Fotherings research shows that bleached coral is vulnerable to ocean acidification.
Scientists predict that by the end of this century, the reef could lose almost 50 per cent of its coral.
However, scientists are still not certain what the long-term effects will be.
There is evidence that the reef is vulnerable because of the increasing levels of CO2, which the climate is changing to match.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), global warming is threatening coral reefs and coral bleaches are becoming increasingly common.
Dr Mark Wilson from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch project says coral bleachers are being caught in the act.
He says coral reefs have already lost about 90 per cent the amount of their cover due to the effects of global warming.
“We need to make sure that the reefs are being protected for the next generation,” he said.
Coral bleaching occurs when water levels of the water table in the coral reefs sink below the level of the reef.
Once there, the coral begins to die, but the coral can regenerate once the reef recovers.
While coral reefs do not have an entire ecosystem to survive on, it is expected that the loss of the Great British Barrier Reef will be a huge loss for the surrounding ecosystem.
Professor Funderings research has revealed that the coral bleacher will have to live in extreme conditions to regenerate the reef, and the bleaching is a process that is difficult to reverse.
With climate change now causing more severe bleaching in the Pacific Ocean, Professor Fothering says it is important to understand the extent of the damage the Great Ocean has already suffered from global warming, and how much damage it will face in the future.
“It is a very challenging situation for coral reefs,” he explained.
“[But] we have to be prepared for the future.”
Dr John Foulds is an oceanographer and researcher at the University of Tasmania, who has been working on coral bleACH.
He is also a research associate at the Great Lakes Coral Reefs Centre.