That’s what bleaching is.
Chlorine bleaching is a common papermaking technique today.
By the middle of the century bleaching may occur every year.
But severe bleaching can kill corals.
Mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 hit vast areas of the reef.
The first recorded bleaching was in 1911 on Bird Key Reef in the Florida Keys.
So well understood is the mechanism that satellite data on water temperature is a good proxy for coral bleaching.
Bleaching is associated with the devastation of coral reefs, which are home to approximately 25 percent of all marine species.
It is called bleaching because zooxanthellae (which are golden-brown in colour) are expelled, leaving the white coral exposed.
It indicated bleaching levels of more than 60% of coral this time were concentrated in reefs between Port Douglas and Townsville.
Crucially, areas that previously escaped bleaching at the southern end, particularly those near or below Mackay, have been badly hit.
While acknowledging significant bleaching in their region of the reef, tourism operators want this to be reported with more precision.
This simple bleaching treatment, however, is not practical for kraft that is difficult to bleach, nor can it retain maximum pulp strength.
A new phenomenon of “mass bleaching” was seen for the first time, where bleaching would smash large regions, rather than just isolated stretches of coral.
And that was not because of bleaching but Cyclone Debbie further south, which damaged that other hub of reef tourism, the Whitsundays after it escaped the bleaching.
The increase in regularity of bleaching events is worrying news, since reefs can often recover, so long as they are not being repeatedly affected by bleaching or other harms.
Surveys have revealed that 93% of the almost 3,000 individual reefs have been touched by bleaching, and almost a quarter – 22% – of coral over the entire Great Barrier Reef has been killed by this bleaching event.
A major bleaching event is currently under way in large parts of the North Pacific, including the Marshall Islands and Hawaii, which experts have warned could be on a ‘historic’ scale akin to the record bleaching of 1998 that saw mass coral die-off around the world.
An assessment by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests the risk of bleaching is greatest north of Cairns, and a warmer than expected February could still change projections, but Hughes says the chance of a non-bleaching year is “pretty good”.
As part of a project documenting the global bleaching event, he had surveyed Lizard Island, which sits about 90km north of Cooktown in far north Queensland, when it was in full glorious health; then just as it started bleaching this year; then finally a few weeks after the bleaching began.
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