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Environment | Australia

Damage to Great Barrier Reef irreversible, scientists say

Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Monday, April 17, 2017, 2:24 PM - Consecutive years of coral bleaching has impacted the majority of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and scientists are saying the damage has reached a new extreme.

Aerial surveys from the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found 800 individual coral reefs impacted by bleaching along an 8,000-kilometre stretch. With the added impact of two back-to-back bleaching events — one in 2016, another in 2017 — the coral now has little room to recover, researchers told The Guardian.

"It’s too early yet to tell what the full death toll will be from this year's bleaching, but clearly it will extend 500 km south of last year’s bleaching," Terry Hughes, a professor who led the surveys, told the publication.

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"Last year was bad enough, this year is a disaster year,” water quality expert John Brodie told The Guardian. Brodie also noted that the reef has hit a "terminal stage."

"The federal government is doing nothing really, and the current programs, the water quality management is having very limited success. It’s unsuccessful."

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Widespread bleaching has been scientifically linked to rising sea-surface temperatures caused by Earth's rising temperatures. It's a phenomenon that has only taken place on the Great Barrier Reef four times in recorded history, The Guardian reports.

2016 marked the largest die-off of corals ever documented, with the hardest-hit areas impacting the reef's north. Roughly 67 per cent of shallow-water corals perished.

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