The Great Barrier Reef Experiences Record Recovery

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Mary Rooke Commentary and Analysis Writer
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The Great Barrier Reef, located in Australia, surprised scientists by recovering from damage caused by tropical storms and a mass bleaching event.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) announced that new coral had populated the northern and central parts of the damaged Great Barrier Reef, according to the AIMS 2021 annual report.

Scientists say the coral in the southern part of the Australian reef has decreased, the report stated.

AIMS’ survey of the reef’s health found that Acropora coral levels at the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, were at their highest since the organization began monitoring the ecosystem 36 years ago.

Marine scientists, who monitor the Great Barrier Reef using aerial surveys and divers as part of their annual survey, noticed the coral became stressed during a La Niña in March, causing a mass bleaching event, according to the report. (RELATED: Horrifying Fish Caught Off The Coast Of Australia)

“In our 36 years of monitoring the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, we have not seen bleaching events so close together,” AIMS CEO Paul Hardisty said in a press release.

Mass bleaching events — typically rare with only two being recorded before 2016 — happen when coral begins expelling the algae that give its color and life, the AIMS report stated. There have been four such events recorded by AIMS in the last six years, according to the report.

“This recovery has occurred despite the latest two mass coral bleaching events in 2020 and 2022, which underlines that widespread coral bleaching does not necessarily lead to coral mortality,” the report stated.

Dr. Mike Emslie from AIMS warned in the press release that progress might not be permanent because the Great Barrier Reef was also damaged by the evasive coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish that eat the newly populated Acropora coral.

“They are also highly susceptible to coral bleaching, when water temperatures reach elevated levels, and are the preferred prey for crown-of-thorns starfish,” said Emslie. “This means that large increases in hard coral cover can quickly be negated by disturbances on reefs where Acropora corals predominate.”