Coral reefs are increasingly threatened by the one-two punch of Cyclones and Bleaching



A damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia.

A damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia.

Before climate change caused more frequent and deadly bleaching events, cyclones were one of the greatest threats to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Scientists estimate that, before 2016, the destruction of tropical hurricanes was responsible for one-third to nearly half of the loss of coral cover on the world's largest reef system over the past 30 years, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific reports. The fading of corals, on the other hand, only contributed 5 to 10 percent of the coral loss.

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That all changed two years ago when the first of two unprecedented driving events struck the 1,400 mile long Great Barrier Reef and eventually killed half of the corals (and other tropical reefs devastated worldwide). The new study analyzes how corals have been restored from a combination of cyclones and bleach events of the past 19 years in the Palm Islands Group, a collection of reef rims in the central part of the Great Barrier Reef.

The conclusion: 47.8% of the hard coral covering of the research locations has been lost since 1998 and the composition of the reef ecosystem has changed drastically. This was mainly due to a bleaching event in 1998 and Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 storm that hit a direct hit on the reefs in 2011. (The bleaching event in 2016 hit the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef the hardest, leaving the Palm Islands Group in the central part relatively unharmed. The impact of the bleaching event 2017 will be published in a soon to be published paper.)


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