Two young Acropora colonies — North Point, Lizard Island. Photo: Wendy Morris
Two young Acropora colonies — North Point, Lizard Island. Photo: Wendy Morris

Coral shows sign of recovery, but it could be too late

A GREAT Barrier Reef island that was ground zero for coral bleaching two years ago, has signs of a slow recovery.

A new study has found the unprecedented back-to-back bleaching events across the Reef changed the physiology of tougher coral, making them more resilient to future stress.

Images of bleached white coral on Lizard Island's fringing reef went viral during the 2016 bleaching event, with one coral reef scientist describing the reef in the following months as undergoing a "complete ecosystem collapse".

Healthy staghorn coral at Lizard Island. Photo: Wendy Morris
Healthy staghorn coral at Lizard Island. Photo: Wendy Morris

Since then, however, Far Northern tourism identity and marine biologist Wendy Morris, who has been monitoring patches of juvenile coral across the fringing reef, said the marine environment appeared to be bouncing back from disaster.

"I was actually at Lizard Island over the weekend," she said.

"I'd have to say, I'm so thrilled and delighted - particularly with three main areas, straight off the resort beach and over at the clam gardens - that were all utterly bashed by two cyclones and the bleaching.

"Everything is looking just so remarkably healthy."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has placed the marine park on "bleach watch", fearing warm sea temperatures forecast this summer could place the natural wonder at risk of another mass coral bleaching event.

Ms Morris remained hopeful the region's cyclone activity would keep bleaching at bay.

"We're coming into summer and seeing our dear friend Cyclone Owen whizzing around, which is thankfully putting out lots of water and rough weather, which is exactly what the Reef needs, but let's keep our fingers crossed," she said.

A study released yesterday, showed the response of the Great Barrier Reef to extreme temperatures in 2017 was markedly different to the year prior, with surviving corals becoming tougher to heat stress.

Study co-author, James Cook University's Dr Andrew Hoey, said the combined footprint of the two bleaching events had killed nearly half of the corals on two-thirds of the world's largest reef system.

"It's only a matter of time before we see another mass-bleaching event, triggered by the next marine heatwave, driven by global heating," he said.



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