- The recent coral bleaching devastated only the northern regions of the reef.
- Two-thirds of the reef survived with only minor damage.
- Tourism remains a thriving industry in the reef.
- Scientists estimate it will take 10-15 years for the reef to recover its lost corals.
The Great Barrier Reef gained widespread attention after several news outlets reported that the world’s largest living organism has died. However, recent re-surveys of the reef revealed that the southern two-thirds of the reef survived with only minor damage from the height of the coral bleaching.
The worst affected areas from the largest coral die-off in the reef’s history were located in its northern region. A 700 km swath lost an average of 67 percent of its corals to bleaching in the past 8-9 months alone.
Northern region lost over half its corals from the latest bleaching event
Professor Terry Hughes said that the region suffered only minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002. Hughes serves as Director of the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and is based at James Cook University.
He also undertook extensive aerial surveys of the reef at the height of the recent coral bleaching event. The surveys revealed that the reef’s most pristine northern region lost the majority of its shallow-water corals.
According to Coral COE, on average, the central region lost 6 percent of its corals while the south only lost 1 percent. Craig Stephen, who manages one of the Great Barrier Reef’s largest live-aboard tourist operations, says this is welcome news for the Australian tourism industry.
Parts of the Great Barrier Reef are still open for tourists.
The industry currently employs over 70,000 people and provides Australia with $5 billion in revenue annually. The uneven bleaching means that guides can still take tourists to pristine parts of the reef to marvel at its beauty.
Even more good news for the reef is the revelation that parts of the northern region were sheltered from the widespread bleaching. Hughes suspects that this was caused by the upwelling of cooler water from the Coral Sea.
This could be a sign that the Great Barrier Reef is well on its way to recovery. However, given its state it would be a slow and fragile recovery. Scientists estimate that it will take 10-15 years for the reef’s northern regions to recover nearly all of its lost coral.