SYDNEY Nov 29 Warm seas around Australia's
Great Barrier Reef have killed two-thirds of a 700-km (435
miles) stretch of coral in the past nine months, the worst
die-off ever recorded on the World Heritage site, scientists who
surveyed the reef said on Tuesday.
Their finding of the die-off in the reef's north is a major
blow for tourism at reef which, according to a 2013 Deloitte
Access Economics report, attracts about A$5.2 billion ($3.9
billion) in spending each year.
"The coral is essentially cooked," professor Andrew Baird, a
researcher at James Cook University who was part of the reef
surveys, told Reuters by telephone from Townsville in
Australia's tropical north.
He said the die-off was "almost certainly" the largest ever
recorded anywhere because of the size of the Barrier Reef, which
at 348,000 sq km (134,400 sq miles) is the biggest coral reef in
Bleaching occurs when the water is too warm, forcing coral
to expel living algae and causing it to calcify and turn white.
Mildly bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops and
the survey found this occurred in southern parts of the reef,
where coral mortality was much lower.
While bleaching occurs naturally, scientists are concerned
that rising sea temperatures caused by global warming magnifies
the damage, leaving sensitive underwater ecosystems unable to
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee stopped short of placing
the Great Barrier Reef on an "in danger" list last May but asked
the Australian government for an update on its progress in
safeguarding the reef.
Australia will lodge that update on Friday, said a spokesman
for Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg. In June, during an
election campaign, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised A$1
billion in spending to protect the reef.
Climate scientists argue that increased carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere traps heat radiating from earth, creating global
warming. Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters per
capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants for
"Climate change is killing the Great Barrier Reef," said
environmentalist Charlie Wood, director of 350.org, an
anti-fossil fuels movement.
"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," Wood said in an emailed
($1 = 1.3355 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Paul Tait)