Rising water temperatures have damaged the world’s largest reef system, which stretches for over 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia.
Reports of the death of the Great Barrier Reef have been greatly exaggerated, scientists have said, after the publication of an “obituary” for the vast coral ecosystem.
Outside Magazine published a somewhat tongue-in-cheek obituary for the Great Barrier Reef earlier this week, citing its lifespan from 25 million BC-2016.
The article detailed the life of the reef, its active membership in the ecological community, its worldwide fame and the coral bleaching that has led to its deteriorating health.
“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old,” read the article.
If a person is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, their loved ones don’t rush to write an obituary and plan a funeral. Likewise, species aren’t declared extinct until they actually are.
This bleak assessment was a response to a number of different reports describing the extent of a massive coral bleaching event from earlier in 2016.
Bleaching occurs when prolonged high temperatures cause coral to expel their symbiotic algae, turning them into snow-white skeletons. Corals can recover from this but some simply die.
Divers on the Great Barrier Reef have spotted large areas with degraded coral, with some reporting the smell of rotting, dying coral when they emerge from the deep.
While almost all parts of the Great Barrier Reef suffered bleaching, not all have died.
Scientists hope that large parts of the ecosystem will recover, although the long-term warming and acidifying of the oceans pose a grave threat to reefs around the world.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it has now started the second phase of its in-water survey to assess the impact of this year’s mass coral bleaching event.