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Great Barrier Reef bleaching could cost a million tourists
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 21, 2016

Coral bleaching goes into unprecedented third year: NOAA
Washington (AFP) June 20, 2016 - The planet's coral reefs are likely facing warmer than normal water for an unprecedented third year in a row, extending what is already the longest coral bleaching event on record, US observers said Monday.

The global bleaching event began in mid-2014 with global warming and a particularly intense El Nino phenomenon resulting in higher than normal ocean temperatures, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA presented its grim outlook for the world's coral reefs at an international symposium being held this week in Honolulu, Hawaii.

It said the impact is expected to be particularly hard on reefs in US states and territories.

Reefs in Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Marianas, the Florida Keys, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are particularly vulnerable.

"Since its onset, all US coral reefs have seen above normal temperatures and more than 70 percent of them have been exposed to the prolonged high temperatures that can cause bleaching," NOAA said.

It noted that studies also have shown that about 93 percent of Australia's Great Barrier Reef was bleached as of April.

Moreover, there is a 90 percent chance of widespread coral bleaching in the Pacific island states of Palau and Micronesia during an impending La Nina phenomenon, which can cause high ocean temperatures in the western Pacific.

"It's time to shift this conversation to what can be done to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event," Jennifer Koss, the director of NOAA's coral reef conservation program.

She said local conservation efforts have proved inadequate, and that a greater global effort was needed to respond to the effects of climate change.

Corals are nourished by microscopic algae, called dinoflagellates, that live in vast colonies on their surface.

The algae consume nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients derived from the coral, and use light to transform those substances into energy.

The photosynthesis also liberates energy in the coral's tissues, enabling it to build the calcium skeletons that provide a habitat for these unicellular algae.

When the coral is under stress, it sheds the dinoflagellates and whitens.

The disappearance of coral reefs has had a big impact on the marine ecosystem because they provide food and shelter for many species of fish and crustaceans.

Severe coral bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef could cost it more than a million visitors a year and huge sums in lost tourism revenue, a survey said Tuesday.

The World Heritage-listed reef which teems with marine life experienced an unprecedented bleaching earlier this year that saw much of it whiten and almost a quarter of corals die.

"The reef tourism areas are at risk of losing over one million visitors per year," a discussion paper from the independent think-tank the Australia Institute said.

It added that Aus$1 billion (US$747 million) of potential revenue could be lost if those visitors do not travel to the tropical reef region.

Some 10,000 jobs in Queensland state were also at risk from a drop in tourism, a major industry in the area, it added.

"Continued bleaching could not only impact the reef's status as Australia's premier international tourist destination, but also impact Australia's identity as an international tourist destination," it said.

The report said last year, about 3.5 million tourists, mostly Australians, visited areas along the reef.

The institute surveyed thousands of Australians and others from of the major tourism markets of China, the United States and Britain.

More than a third of Australians said they were more likely to travel to another part of the country if the bleaching continued.

In terms of foreign tourists, more than half Chinese respondents, and about a third of American and British participants said they were more likely to visit somewhere other than Australia if the reef's deterioration persisted.

The 2,300-kilometre (1,429-mile) long reef -- the world's biggest coral ecosystem -- is suffering from its worst bleaching in recorded history due to warming sea temperatures.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour.

The reef is also under pressure from farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

The report concluded that two of Queensland's industries -- tourism and coal mining -- were directly at odds with each other.

"Without serious action on climate change and real resources allocated to the reef's health, the tourism industry seems certain to lose its most precious asset," it said.

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