Australian scientists warn that 93% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is exposed to an unprecedented bleaching phenomenon. As a result, almost half of the corals that make up the chain could die. "In the northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, it is as if ten cyclones hit it at the same time," says Professor Terry Hugghes, director of the Center for Barrier Reef Studies.
Bleaching is a process that happens when seawater is heated and forces corals to shed the small algae that cover them. These provide them with oxygen and protection, so when they run out, the corals calcify and turn white. The process is reversible to a certain extent, for this it would be necessary to lower the temperatures. For this reason, in the midst of one of the strongest El Niño phenomena in two decades, the forecast of scientists is not very optimistic. "Our current estimate is that about 50% of the corals have already died or are dying," says Hugghes, who has participated in aerial observations of the barrier as a member of the Special Corps Against Coral Bleaching. All in all, experts believe that El Niño is just an aggravation of the main cause: global warming.
The Great Barrier Reef, declared a World Heritage Site in 1981, is one of the symbols of Australia. Its more than 2,300 kilometers in length are home to more than 400 species of coral and support an enormous biodiversity. In addition, it is estimated that each year it contributes to the country more than 3,000 million euros per year in tourism income. Following the statement from this body, in which the Government and several scientific institutions participate, the Minister of the Environment, Greg Hunt, has declared to the local media that the Executive is seriously analyzing the situation.
Almost a year ago, in May 2015, UNESCO was about to place the Great Barrier Reef on its list of World Heritage Sites that are threatened. The declaration was stopped, but for years there have been criticisms of Australia by environmental groups for its environmental policy. The country is one of the top emitters of carbon per capita, in part because of its coal-fired power plants. Despite promises to cut emissions, the government in recent years has supported coal mining projects in Queensland, the state facing most of the coral reef.