Tech & Science Coral bleaching a sign NT marine ecosystems threatened by rising temperatures, scientists say

01:30  14 march  2018
01:30  14 march  2018 Source:   ABC News

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As global temperatures rise and our oceans heat up, we can expect more and more bleaching to occur at coral reefs around the world. But what are coral reefs and why are they important? And what does it mean when scientists say they are bleaching ?

Oceanic currents and atmospheric conditions may also be affected by rising sea temperatures . Box 4.4 Coral reefs and climate change: implications beyond mass bleaching Climate change threatens coral reef ecosystems in other ways aside from increasing the frequency and severity of bleaching

Scientists are warning that entire ecosystems are dependent on keeping reefs healthy.© ABC News: Jane Bardon Scientists are warning that entire ecosystems are dependent on keeping reefs healthy. Coral bleaching in waters near the Cobourg Peninsula is ringing alarm bells that the Northern Territory's marine ecosystems are under threat from rising sea surface temperatures, scientists say.

Rangers at the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the remote peninsula, about 60km north-east of Darwin, filmed large patches of bleached coral from the air in January, in the same area where they filmed healthy coral in January three years ago.

Their finding followed a warning from the United States agency that monitors reef bleaching threats, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that NT waters were on a red alert for water temperature rises of 4 degrees Celsius or more above average.

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Australia's Great Barrier Reef—the world's largest coral reef—is a unique marine ecosystem threatened by global warming. The first is rising ocean temperatures , which can cause coral bleaching .

"Cobourg is an extremely valuable marine park and we've seen some evidence coming out of there that they are suffering from coral bleaching," said Adele Pedder from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"There's evidence that we've recently had a sea surface temperature warming event that is like a heatwave underwater."

Ms Pedder said it would be tragic if some of the Territory's remote reefs died before many of them had been explored and studied.

"We know that climate change is having an impact, so we can expect more of these events, we can expect more coral bleaching happening in the NT," she said.

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Are the prospects that gloomy for coral reefs? No, says Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy — if policymakers and citizens act in time. Q: The AR5 calls coral reefs “the most vulnerable marine ecosystem ” on Earth, “with little scope for adaptation” to the rising ocean

My Account Sign in Sign out Subscribe Subscribe. It’s also the longest bleaching event in recorded history, and scientists say it shows no evidence of ending any time soon. The fragile nature of coral reefs leaves them hypersensitive to climate change, but ecosystems above ground

Reefs in the NT's tropical waters were likely to be stressed by continuing sea surface temperature rises as global carbon emissions increase, said Selina Ward, a coral researcher from the University of Queensland's School of Biology.

Coral bleaching alerts were issued by a US agency for waters off the NT in January.© Supplied: NOAA Coral bleaching alerts were issued by a US agency for waters off the NT in January. "We keep having, or almost having, the warmest years on record, so at the moment that's the trajectory that we're on, that we're likely to get more and more bleaching events if we don't reduce our emissions quite drastically," she said.

Frequent bleaching events give the reefs less chance to recover, she said.

"If we have mortality, there's less time for new corals to come in and fill those spaces," Dr Ward said.

Dr Ward warned that entire ecosystems dependant on the reefs were threatened by coral mortality.

"Fish are dramatically affected by loss of coral, and as well as the fish, there are thousands of invertebrate species that live amongst the corals, so that's a problem," she said.

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Coral makes up less than 1 percent of the underwater ecosystem yet helps to protect 25 percent of marine species, generates tourism revenue and boosts fishing, according to data from The Nature Conservatory. Many scientists say coral bleaching

The Australian Marine Conservation Society is calling on the NT and Federal governments to improve coastal management to reduce other stresses on reefs.

Adele Pedder is calling on governments to reduce emissions and manage coastlines well.© ABC News: Jane Bardon Adele Pedder is calling on governments to reduce emissions and manage coastlines well. Ms Pedder said reefs not suffering from other pollution stresses were more able to recover from climate change-related bleaching.

"We know we need to keep our rivers clean, and flowing to the sea, we need to ensure that we don't roll out seabed mining in the NT," she said.

"And we need to implement protections like Indigenous Protected Areas, jointly managed national parks, and recreational fishing zones, so we can maintain our fishing lifestyle."

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