The report surveyed a total of 719 reefs from a low flying aircraft during the Australian 2021-2022 summer season and found that 654 reefs, 91%, “exhibited some bleaching.”
“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions. This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998,” the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in its findings.
The Great Barrier Reef’s waters started warming in December 2021 and exceeded “historical summer maximums.” It was hit by three distinct heat waves throughout the summer until early April 2022, which increased “thermal stress” throughout the reef’s central and northern areas, the report found.
Stressed coral ejects algae from within its tissue, depriving it of a food source. If conditions don’t improve, coral can starve and die, turning white as its carbonate skeleton is exposed.
“So we’re really losing that window of recovery. We’re getting back-to-back bleaching events, back-to-back heat waves. And the corals just aren’t adapting to these new conditions,” she said.
The report warned that the climate crisis remains the reef’s greatest threat and “events that cause disturbances on the reef are becoming more frequent.”
Scientists say time is running out for the reefs to be able to recover and that governments urgently need to address the root cause: the climate crisis.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s national treasures, stretching some 1,400 miles (2,300km) down the Queensland coast, and attracting around three million tourists a year prior to the pandemic.
The Australian government has faced prolonged pressure from UNESCO to prove that it’s doing enough to save the reef and has been called out by global climate experts, among others, for not doing enough to transition Australia away from fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions.
The report’s publication comes after leading scientists called on the agency to release its findings before the federal election on May 21.