Written for The Ocean Agency | 1 June 2016
The peak of the coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is over. An estimated 35% of all the corals in the northern and central sections have died - it was one of the worst environmental disasters in Australian history. Now all we can do is help make sure the reef is given the best chance to recover (as well as it can) before the next bleaching event inevitably hits.
However the bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was not the end of the 3rd Global Bleaching Event. That keeps rolling on from region to region. It is currently hitting the Indian Ocean as revealed in the latest imagery released.
"The bleaching we just witnessed in the Maldives was truly haunting," said Richard Vevers, founder of The Ocean Agency. "It's rare to see reefs bleach quite so spectacularly. These were healthy reefs in crystal clear water at the height of an intense bleaching event. The flesh of the corals had turned clear and we were seeing the skeletons of the animals glowing white for as far as the eye could see - it was a beautiful, yet deeply disturbing sight."
"We've been following this 3rd Global Bleaching Event since the start nearly two years ago and just when you think you've seen the saddest sight you'll ever see, you see something even worse."
The Ocean Agency in partnership with XL Catlin (the global insurance and reinsurance company), Google and scientists at The University of Queensland and NOAA have been responding to the bleaching event since it started in late 2014. Using specially developed cameras, they are the only ones set up to chase the event, dispatching teams on a global basis to visually record it. The unique 360-degree imagery they have produced is revealing the true scale of a global bleaching event to the world.
“The current global bleaching event is already lasted longer than any previous bleaching event and is likely to last until at least the end of the year." stated Mark Eakin, coordinator of NOAA Coral Reef Watch.
The ocean absorbs 93% of climate change heat. Global Bleaching Events are a new phenomenon caused by this additional heat (there have only been three in recorded history - all within the last 20 years). Both the frequency and severity of these events are predicted to increase for at least the next two decades due to committed global warming already in the Earth's system.