What is Coral Bleaching and how does it impact the Great Barrier Reef?

What is Coral Bleaching and how does it impact the Great Barrier Reef?

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 01/31/2020

Reading time: 4 mins

When we talk about the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef there is often mention of coral bleaching. However, we’re often left wondering what coral bleaching actually is. No longer will it be a risk in a list of issues for the Great Barrier Reef, we’re going to explain it for you.

What is coral bleaching?

Coral bleaching is quite easy to understand once you’ve got the information. There are three main steps to how coral bleaches.

Healthy corals are brightly coloured and vibrant to look at. These corals are covered in algae, and the two depend on each other to survive. The algae live in the microscopic grooves of the coral. Here, algae are protected and can undertake the process of photosynthesis. The coral then feeds on the byproducts of the algae photosynthesis. You with us so far?

This relationship will continue unchanged for years, however if the coral becomes stressed, the algae begin to leave.

Without the algae the coral loses its major food source. Slowly the coral starves and begins to face to white. Corals are also more susceptible to disease during this time, which can fasten the bleaching process.

Does this mean they’re dead?

Not necessarily!

Many corals can be bleached but still alive, however if they do not regain algae they will eventually starve to death. There are many cases of corals regaining their colour and thriving again. However, it takes decades for the corals to fully recover, and increased bleaching events are preventing their recovery.

Coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef

So, what does this have to do with the Great Barrier Reef?

Well, in the past 20 years, over 90% of coral in the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached at least once. If this pattern continues, corals will not have enough time to fully recover and will quickly all starve to death. We’re already seeing the impacts today!

Climate change is the biggest contributor to coral bleaching. Just a one-degree change in water temperature is enough to stress coral into bleaching. Further, the presence of chemicals and run-offs into the ocean is causing coral bleaching. Changing chemical compositions of sea water around reefs, is causing additional bleaching events.

How can you help?

You can help by reducing your emissions and striving to live a more eco-friendly life. Every small action can help, it might not seem like much, but it all adds up!

One easy thing you can do is cut down on your plastic use. The creation of plastic produces huge amounts of emissions which are directly contributing to increasing water temperatures. Additionally, plastics is finding its way into the ocean and harming our marine life. Cutting down on your plastic use is a win-win!

When visiting the Great Barrier Reef, be sure to look but never touch. Do not disturb the coral, they are very precious and delicate. Additionally, invest in some reef-safe sunscreen. Sun safety is incredibly important, but a lot of sunscreen contains harmful chemicals. When you swim the chemicals leak from your skin into the ocean. Reef-safe sunscreens do not use coral-harming chemicals and are an easy way to protect the ocean and yourself!

But perhaps the best thing you can do is visit the Great Barrier Reef! By visiting the reefs and sharing your photos and stories, you’ll help to spread the word on what people can do to protect the beautiful part of the world.

Hopefully this gives you a greater understanding of that ever-occurring term Coral Bleaching. You can see these beautiful corals and learn more about how you can protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Related article: Coral and the Great Barrier Reef

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.