Greenpeace releases images showing Great Barrier Reef suffering coral bleaching for the second year in a row

Sydney, 10 March 2017 – Greenpeace Australia Pacific today releases shocking photos and footage documenting the Great Barrier Reef’s first severe coral bleaching to happen two years in a row. The bleaching is the result of 12 months of above-average sea temperatures, which is “cooking the reef alive”.

Brett Monroe Garner, a conservation photographer and marine biologist documenting the bleaching with Greenpeace, said:

“I’ve been photographing this area of the reef for several years now and what we’re seeing is unprecedented.

“In these photos nearly 100% of the corals are bleaching, and who knows how many will recover. Algae is already beginning to overgrow many of the corals.

“Just a few months ago, these corals were full of colour and life. Now, everywhere you look is white. The corals aren’t getting the chance to bounce back from last year’s bleaching event. If this is the new normal, we’re in trouble.”

In 2015, UNESCO placed the Great Barrier Reef on its watchlist due to concerns about the Australian Government’s management of the World Heritage Area. Despite this, the Australian Government is considering giving AU$1 billion (US$700 million) to the biggest coal mine ever built in the country. The Carmichael mine in the state of Queensland is set to be a climate bomb that endangers the reef and defies the Paris climate agreement.

“Climate change is fuelling warmer waters, cooking the reef alive. Once a coral is dead, it’s gone forever,” said Alix Foster Vander Elst, Campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“We have on our doorstep the clearest signal that climate change is happening, and that governments aren’t moving fast enough to stop it. We can still stop the Reef’s destruction if we dramatically reduce global emissions.

“While the reef is fighting for its life, the Australian government is funding its destruction. Tackling climate change is the only real solution here, and that starts by stopping public funding for climate-killing coal projects.”

The appetite for coal in markets such as India and China is also stalling.

“China’s coal use is decreasing, and India said it won’t need to import Australian coal after 2020. Yet here in Australia we are subsidising the industry while watching one of our greatest natural wonders vanish before our eyes,” said  Foster Vander Elst (1, 2).

When water is too warm, corals expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. If water temperatures don’t return to normal within 6-8 weeks of the bleaching, the coral dies. Reef ecosystems live near the surface of the water, where the rise in ocean temperature is strongest.

Corals can survive a bleaching event, but it puts them under severe stress. In 2016, 93% of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef bleached and 22% of the entire Reef died. (3)

[1] In China, coal consumption fell by approximately 1.3% in 2016, according to recently released statistics.

[2] ‘India won’t need to import Australian coal after 2020’ – Australian Financial Review – 10 August 2015

[3] Death rate of the entire reef as of June 2016, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science