El Niño a red herring: coral bleaching wouldn’t occur without climate change

20.03.16 By
This article is more than 8 years old

The coral bleaching that is currently devastating the Great Barrier Reef would not occur without the influence of climate change, the Climate Council said today.

The Climate Council has issued an urgent scientific alert in response to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority upgrading the coral bleaching threat to level three, the highest level of response to coral bleaching.

The alert finds Australia has weathered El Niño patterns for centuries but it was only once global warming began in earnest in the 1970s that the Great Barrier Reef began to experience repeated coral bleaching events.

“Bleaching events have occurred repeatedly since the late 1970s while none were observed before the 1970s,” Climate Councillor Professor Will Steffen said.

“Climate change, combined with the El Niño effect, has proved a deadly stress on the reef.

Prof Steffen said the Climate Council was offering urgent science briefings to MPs on the coral bleaching occurring in the reef.

“Any political representative, particularly those in QLD, should understand the devastating impacts of climate change on the reef and the resulting economic impacts,” he said.

Record-breaking ocean heat has triggered the current global coral bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in mid-2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian Oceans in 2015.

In February 2016, sea surface temperatures climbed to an astounding 33°C in the waters off the far north Queensland coast, resulting in coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef, particularly the most pristine and isolated reefs in the far north.

Professor Tim Flannery said the burning of coal was directly linked to the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef.

“The emissions of greenhouse gases through the burning of coal and other fossil fuels for electricity is driving the rising surface temperatures and ocean acidity that pose the most serious threat to the survival of the reef,” he said.

“If we continue to burn fossil fuels and warm the climate, we are likely to lose most corals worldwide in as little as 30 to 40 years. To prevent this tragedy, most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

“That’s why we need policies that will create an orderly closure of our ageing and polluting coal-fired power plants to make way for modern, clean and efficient renewables.”

For media enquiries, please contact Jessica Craven on 0400 424 559 or jess@climatecouncil.org.au