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Adapt, move, or die: repeated coral bleaching leaves wildlife on the Great Barrier Reef with few options

Jodie L. Rummer and Scott F. Heron write in The Conversation (21.3.22) about the latest bout of coral bleaching to strike the Great Barrier Reef, highlighting how scientists are struggling to simulate these extreme environmental conditions in their laboratories.

'To our horror, another mass coral bleaching event may be striking the Great Barrier Reef, with water temperatures reaching up to 3℃ higher than average in some places. This would be the sixth such event since the late 1990s, and the fourth since 2016.

'It comes as a monitoring mission from the United Nations arrives in Queensland today to inspect the reef and consider listing the World Heritage site as “in danger”.

'As coral reef scientists, we’ve seen firsthand how the Great Barrier Reef is nearing its tipping point, beyond which the reef will lose its function as a viable ecosystem. This is not only due to climate change exacerbating marine heatwaves, but also higher ocean acidity, loss of oxygen, pollution, and more.

'Scientists are at our own tipping points, too. The reef is suffering environmental conditions so extreme, we’re struggling to simulate these scenarios in our laboratories. Even though Australia has world-class facilities, we are proverbially beating our heads against the wall each year as conditions worsen.

'It’s getting harder for scientists to predict how these conditions will affect individual species, let alone the health and biodiversity of reef ecosystems. But let’s explore what we do know.'

 

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