Abstract: Summer temperatures in February-April 2016 have caused severe and widespread coral bleaching in Australia. On the east coast, this is the third mass bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and 93% of reefs have been affected. Compared to earlier mass bleaching in 1998 and 2002, 2016 is much more severe, with 50-80% coral mortality recorded on many northern reefs. The geographic footprint of each of the three events has been different, with each one explained by where the hottest temperatures occurred. Based on aerial and underwater surveys of >1000 reefs in 2016 and 650 reefs in 1998 and 2002, we can now identify reefs that have bleached 0, 1, 2 or 3 times, and examine their attributes. Over time progressively fewer GBR reefs have escaped bleaching, and because of the severity of the most recent event, hundreds of reefs have bleached for the first time in 2016. For the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, we have already entered an era when the return time of mass bleaching caused by global warming is shorter than the recovery time of long-lived coral assemblages.
Biography: Terry Hughes is the Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville. Terry was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2001. He has been awarded many prizes, including the prestigious Darwin Medal of the International Society for Coral Reef Studies in 2008. In 2014, he was awarded an Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Terry has studied the Great Barrier Reef for longer than he cares to remember, and has witnessed firsthand how it has continued to be impacted by dredging, pollution and climate change. A recurrent theme in his studies is the application of new scientific knowledge towards improving management of marine environments, especially in Australia.