18 Augustus 2022 – Written by Stacey Bondareva
After years of hearing about the environmental crisis facing the Great Barrier Reef, there is finally a spark of hope—scientists have announced that the reef is displaying the highest coral cover in over 36 years.
The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It is the world’s largest coral reef system, stretching over 2300 kilometers (1430 miles). Containing an abundance of marine life, the reef is home to over 600 known species of coral and relied upon as a habitat by countless other organisms. Unfortunately, its impressive size and biodiversity have not provided immunity to the detrimental effects of rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching.
However, now the Australian Institute of Marine Science has announced the highest cover level of hard coral (‘reef-building’ coral) recorded in the past 36 years of monitoring. The institute has been using their Long-Term Monitoring Program to conduct surveys of 87 reefs within the Great Barrier Reef. They found that over the past year, the hard coral cover in the Northern and Central parts of the reef has risen by 36% and 33%, respectively. This means that the coral is showing an ability to begin recovery after big disturbances.
How Come The Coral Coverage Is Increasing?
The reason for this great news? A period of low stress is to thank. Over the past year, there have been a few major stress factors for corals and a lowered accumulated heat stress. The Acropora coral group that dominates the reef has been able to reproduce and thrive, increasing hard coral cover.
Before we get too excited, though, it is important to note that the Southern part of the Great Barrier Reef has shown a decrease in hard coral cover due to an outbreak of an invasive species, the crown-of-thorn starfish. These starfish prey on the coral and can reach plague proportions, causing coral populations to suffer.
Fingers Crossed More Good News Will Follow
While an increased coral cover over most of the Great Barrier Reef is a cause for celebration, we need to remain diligent in monitoring the state of this awe-inspiring ecosystem. In periods of low stress, the reef’s coral is indeed demonstrating resiliency in recovery, but what about potential long-lasting marine heatwaves and storms? Or increased outbreaks of invasive species?
To ensure we’re doing everything we can to help the Great Barrier reef and other coral systems around the world, we should work to prevent increases in global and water temperatures, reduce ocean pollution, and seek effective strategies for regulating harmful invasive species. Hopefully, more great news for the Great Barrier reef is on the horizon.