Science | Design & Technology

New Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching found

Is any optimism about climate still possible? Two conservation stories broke on the same day last week: one tragedy and one triumph. Meanwhile, some trends look highly promising.  The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most vibrant habitats on Earth. It is as big as Italy and home to 10% of all the fish species in the ocean. But this week the coral reef has lost its beautiful colours and become grey and white. This is called mass bleaching. It is happening because the ocean has become hotter due to climate change. Mass bleaching is becoming much more common. Two events were recorded in the Great Barrier Reef before 2016. Since then there have been four. Bleaching does not always kill coral. But the coral needs time to recover, which at the moment it doesn't have. “The reef is about 1.5 degrees centigrade warmer than it was 150 years ago,” says the chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef. “Unexpected events are now to be expected.” Such warnings are all too familiar. Yet there are hopeful stories too. One came out last week: a beloved bird called the bittern has returned to Britain after being extinct. A scientist from the RSPB said that this is “probably the biggest conservation success story of the last 40 years.” It “shows how quickly nature can bounce back when given the chance,” he said. Could coral reefs also bounce back? Many scientists hope so because they seem to be able to recover surprisingly fast. The biggest environmental problem is burning fossil fuels like oil and gas. In this area, there are also reasons to be more hopeful. Solar energy is getting much cheaper and more effective. If this continues then we could soon stop needing fossil fuels.  A recent report says that we have technologies to solve climate change. We just need to make sure they are used. We can “reach net zero emissions before 2040 and lay the groundwork for a complete solution to climate change," the report says. Is any optimism about climate still possible? Sea change Yes: We have the tools to save the world; the only obstacle is our own failure of imagination and will. If we fight climate change with the same urgency as we fight wars, it is a battle we can win. No: We must confront the grim reality: climate change is already having disastrous effects, and it’s going to get worse. All we can hope for is to minimise the damage. Or... Humanity is now the major force shaping our planet, and that is not going to change. We need to stop thinking about climate change as a one-off crisis and accept that we will be dealing with it for as long as our species exists. KeywordsCoral reef - Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow sea waters around the world. The largest system of coral reefs is found in the Coral Sea off the northeastern coast of Australia.

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