Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island. Dr David Wachenfel said while the Whitsundays had experienced moderate bleaching, there next few weeks would be critical to see whether it survived.
Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island. Dr David Wachenfel said while the Whitsundays had experienced moderate bleaching, there next few weeks would be critical to see whether it survived.

Hope for Whitsundays’ reefs after third mass bleaching

THE Great Barrier Reef has experienced its third major bleaching event in five years, but there is still hope for reefs surrounding the Whitsundays that haven’t been hit as hard as other areas.

The bleaching event comes after the reef underwent the hottest February on record since 1900.

In February, The Whitsunday region was on a warning level from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with thermal stress accumulating but no clear forecast for a bleaching event expected.

Chief scientist from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority David Wachenfeld said since the warning the region had experienced more heat stress and moderate bleaching, but was not as badly impacted as other areas.

“(In February), really the only places where we thought we had a problem were way up in the Far North,” he said.

“What we see now is much more widespread coral bleaching down through the central and southern Great Barrier Reef, but having said that, it’s still very, very mixed.

“In order words, while there are severely bleached reefs all the way from the north to the south and all the way from the inshore to the offshore, it’s not the same everywhere.

“Things certainly did get a lot worse in the Whitsundays since (February), but still most of the Whitsundays didn’t get anything more than moderate bleaching.”

THREAT: Coral bleaching map 2020.
THREAT: Coral bleaching map 2020.

Professor Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University mapped the scale of the bleaching event showing the areas where severe bleaching had occurred.

Referring to the map, Dr Wachenfeld said the lack of dots around the Whitsundays reflects moderate bleaching to reefs in the area, as markers on the map either indicate areas where there was either severe or no bleaching.

However, he said there were some areas in the southern parts of the region that had experienced severe bleaching.

Coral bleaching occurs as result of increased water temperatures and heat stress, but bleached coral is not dead coral.

Dr Wachenfeld said the next few weeks would be critical as to whether or not the bleached corals would survive.

“We’re entering the winter months and the reef has cooled quite a lot through March,” he said.

“The next few weeks we will see out of the coral that is bleached what survives and what dies.

“In reefs where the bleaching is mild or moderate, we would hope that most of those corals would survive.”

Bleached coral is not dead coral.
Bleached coral is not dead coral.

Combined with the pandemic, Dr Wachenfeld said during this difficult time a message of hope for the reef’s future was also important.

“Having another bleaching event on the reef is concerning, but at the same time the Marine Park Authority is very much aware of the economic pressures from COVID-19 travel restrictions on the tourism industry and the broader community,” he said.

“We’re working with the tourism industry to do everything we can to support them, it’s a very challenging time.

“It’s really important that people maintain hope. The reef is still a huge and resilient eco system.

“We need to globally do a lot more about climate change and get greenhouse gas emissions moving downwards not upwards, but it’s really important people don’t lose hope.

“We need to do more to protect the reef, but I think people need to view these bleaching events as a call to action.”



Cops manning borders instead of protecting our kids

premium_icon Cops manning borders instead of protecting our kids

Experienced officers are stuck on border duty

TIMELINE REVEALED: Rail trail on track after cash splash

premium_icon TIMELINE REVEALED: Rail trail on track after cash splash

Construction on the Tweed section of the NRRT could begin in 2021

Expansion of water bottling industry officially outlawed

premium_icon Expansion of water bottling industry officially outlawed

A government document released today made council's vote official