The Great Barrier Reef has been brutally bleached for the second year in a row.
Bleaching occurs when warm water causes stressed-out corals to expel symbiotic algae from their tissues; corals then lose their color and their chief source of food, making them more likely to die.
Last year’s El Niño–induced bleaching event was devastating, knocking out two-thirds of the corals in the northern section of the reef. We’d hoped that 2017 would bring cooler temperatures, giving the fragile ecosystem some much needed R&R.
Instead, temperatures on Australia’s east coast were still hotter than average in the early months of this year, and on top of that, the reef’s midsection took a hit from a big cyclone in March.
This is the first time the reef has experienced back-to-back annual bleaching events. If this keeps happening, it’ll quash the reef’s chances for recovery and regrowth, a process that can take a decade or longer under normal conditions.
Under the abnormal conditions of climate change, though, there is little reprieve — unless we, y’know, address the root of the problem itself.