Australia's Great Barrier Reef has suffered from the worst die-off of coral ever recorded, with two thirds of a 430-mile stretch completely dead from escalated water temperatures.
Scientists announced Nov. 29 that the northern portion of the world's largest reef died after the warm water bleached the coral and weakened it, reports Reuters. The bleaching process causes the coral to expel living algae, which then turns white and calcifies.
"The coral is essentially cooked," James Cook University professor Andrew Baird told Reuters.
Though this phenomenon happens naturally, and the affected areas can sometimes heal in mild cases, the recent events are far from the normal range. Scientists worry that it is only a matter of time until rising temperatures associated with excess carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere completely bleach and eviscerate the entire reef.
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"Climate change is killing the Great Barrier Reef," environmentalist Charlie Wood, director of an anti-fossil fuels movement called 350.org, said in a statement. "The continued mining and burning of coal, oil and gas is irreparably damaging the climate. If we want our kids to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef for generations to come, we must act now to keep fossil fuels in the ground."
Australian environmental officials said Nov. 25 that the government pledged to allocate nearly $34 million toward improving water quality in an effort to curb the harmful effects on the reef, notes The New York Times.
In some regions of the affected northern stretch, all of the coral died from the bleaching, explained Prof. Terry Hughes, ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at Cook University Director.
"The good news is that in the south, only about 1 percent of the reef's coral has died, and the mortality rate in the middle is about 6 percent," he added. "But in the north, mortality rates are very high, and in some places where coral has survived but it has weakened, the per capita predation rate has gone through the roof."