Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor Terry Hughes conducting a previous coral bleaching aerial survey in 2017. Photo: Ed Roberts
Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor Terry Hughes conducting a previous coral bleaching aerial survey in 2017. Photo: Ed Roberts

Southern Great Barrier Reef affected in bleaching event

PARTS of the Southern Great Barrier Reef (SGBR) have been affected by a mass coral bleaching event.

While the damage wasn't as bad as further north, this is the third severe mass coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in five years and the first time the SGBR has been included.

Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University Professor Terry Hughes said the 2020 bleaching was severe and more widespread than previous events.

"We surveyed 1,036 reefs from the air during the last two weeks in March, to measure the extent and severity of coral bleaching throughout the Barrier Reef region," Mr Hughes said.

"For the first time, severe bleaching has struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef, the northern, central and now large parts of the southern sectors," Prof Hughes said.

A map of the 2020 coral bleaching event with the most affected areas highlighted in red. Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
A map of the 2020 coral bleaching event with the most affected areas highlighted in red. Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

This year, February had the highest monthly temperatures ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef since the Bureau of Meteorology's sea surface temperature records began in 1900.

Acting Assistant Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University Professor Morgan Pratchett led underwater surveys to assess the bleaching and said they would return to assess the damage.

"In 2020, the cumulative footprint of bleaching has expanded further to include the south," Mr Pratchett said.

Bleached Acropora Coral found during ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies' survey of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Morgan Pratchett
Bleached Acropora Coral found during ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies' survey of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Morgan Pratchett

"Bleaching isn't necessarily fatal, and it affects some species more than others.

"A pale or lightly bleached coral typically regains its colour within a few weeks or months and survives.

"We will go back underwater later this year to assess the losses of corals from this most recent event."


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