*** ----> ‘Mass bleaching event’ under way on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

‘Mass bleaching event’ under way on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

AFP | Beijing, China                                                

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

A “mass bleaching event” is unfolding on Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef, authorities said yesterday, as warming seas threaten the spectacular home to thousands of marine species.

Often dubbed the “world’s largest living structure”, the Great Barrier Reef is a 2,300 kilometre (1,400 mile) expanse of tropical corals that house a stunning array of biodiversity.

But repeated mass bleaching events have threatened to rob the tourist drawcard of its wonder, turning banks of once-vibrant corals into a sickly shade of white.

“We know the biggest threat to coral reefs worldwide is climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef is no exception,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said in a statement. “We need to act on climate change. We need to protect our special places and the plants and animals that call them home.”

The damaging mass bleaching -- the seventh since 1998 -- was confirmed by government scientists following aerial surveys of 300 shallow reefs. The Australian Reef Authority said it would now need to conduct further surveys to assess the severity and extent of bleaching.

Coral bleaching occurs when underwater temperatures are more than 1 degree warmer than the long-term average.

As corals come under heat stress, they expel algae living within their tissues -- draining them of their vibrant colours.

Ocean temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef have approached record levels in the past few weeks, according to official monitoring. Richard Leck, head of oceans at World Wildlife Fund Australia, said it was likely that masses of coral would die if ocean temperatures did not cool rapidly in the coming weeks.

“This bleaching event is unfolding in an area where corals have not been previously exposed to these extreme temperatures,” he said. Leck said climate change was “putting tremendous pressure” on the Great Barrier Reef.