Photo (1), taken in Dec. 2015 shows healthy coral near Lizard Island. The coral in photo (2) from March is bleached. In April 2016, as shown in photo (3), algae begin to grow on the coral. Finally, in photo (4) from May 2016, you can see heavy algal overgrowth. Photo: CoralWatch

By Merrit Kennedy
14 May 2016

(NPR) – The massive bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is likely that country's "biggest ever environmental disaster," says Dr. Justin Marshall, who has studied the reef for three decades.

Only 7 percent of the reef has escaped bleaching, according to researchers at the ARC Center of Excellence. Marshall, a professor at the University of Queensland, says the destructive phenomenon is happening in an area the size of Scotland.

"Before this mass bleaching started, we already were at the point of losing 50% of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef. This, I think, will probably take another 50% off what was left," Marshall says.

Over the course of the last six months, Marshall and his colleagues with the citizen science project Coral Watch have documented the degradation of reef structures near Lizard Island, one of the worst-hit areas.

They photographed the same formations of coral multiple times, showing clearly the pace of the destruction.

"It was a beautiful, wonderful paradise of reef structure and animals, and it's not there anymore. Or it is — but it's a slime ball, it's a gloomy place," Marshall says.

In this series of photos, you can see first that the coral is healthy – then, bleached. Algae begin to grow on the coral, which later intensifies, eventually resulting in disintegration of the coral and the loss of a habitat. […]

Scientists are concerned about reefs worldwide. "We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed," C. Mark Eakin, the Coral Reef Watch coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, tells The New York Times. "We are going to lose a lot of the world's reefs during this event." […]

He adds: "I will probably never see the Great Barrier Reef in the state that it was in six months ago ever again." [more]

New Photos Show The Rapid Pace Of Great Barrier Reef Bleaching

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