The Great Barrier Coast is facing its worst coral bleaching event in decades and has seen at least eight cases of coral death and death in recent weeks, with one person reported dead after they fell into a reef tank.
The coral die-offs are the worst in 20 years and have led to widespread destruction of coral habitats, a new report from Australia’s Environment Department says.
The report, released on Monday, says the bleaching events have impacted all species of coral including the critically endangered blue and orange reef fish, and some species have already been completely extirpated from the reef.
The Great Coral Reef is one of the most fragile ecosystems on Earth, with more than 2,000 species of fish and shellfish, according to the Great Coral Marine Park Authority, which oversees the Great South Pacific Reef.
The reef, home to about 100 million people, is protected under the Marine Conservation and Management Act (MCLA), which states that a protected area is “the maximum area where a marine species can live and flourish without threat from human disturbance.”
The report says a coral bleached species can survive for about four months in the reef, while the most severely affected species can stay for 10 months or more.
That’s a lot longer than the average time for a coral death in the United States, which typically occurs within a year.
The findings come on the heels of a series of recent reports on coral mortality.
A 2014 study in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin found that more than 10 percent of the Great Reef had been completely bleached since 2013.
That study found that bleaching had affected coral populations across the region, particularly on the Great Sturt and in the north-west, which is home to some of the world’s most important marine mammals, including humpback whales, grey whales and the endangered blue fin tuna.
Coral bleaching also has led to a decline in coral populations off the Australian coast.
The bleaching has also had a devastating impact on the lives of fish in the Great Australian Bight, which are crucial for reef development.
The Bight is the largest estuary in the world, and includes a vast amount of coral reef habitat.
The Queensland Government is working with the reef authority and other stakeholders to develop a marine management plan to restore the Bight and its corals, and is planning to extend a $40 million program that supports coral conservation efforts.
A Queensland Environment Minister said the government was continuing to work with the authority to develop the plan.
“We’re going to work closely with the Queensland Government to work on this, so that it’s a holistic plan to save the Bights,” Environment Minister Scott Emerson said.
“What’s really important is the Brought back is our reef.
We’re going after the dead coral, we’re going through the dead corals.”
The Queensland government said the province has a $400 million commitment to coral restoration and that it is continuing to collaborate with the Great Basin Authority, Queensland Water and the Australian Conservation Foundation to develop coral conservation strategies.