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'Devastating': Great Barrier Reef in Danger of Catastrophic Bleaching as Temperatures in Australia Remain High

"It's a sobering reality we're in."

Temperatures in the waters around the Great Barrier Reef Wednesday were higher than usual.

Temperatures in the waters around the Great Barrier Reef Wednesday were higher than usual. (Image: NOAA Coral Reef Watch)

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger of a catastrophic bleaching event that scientists warn could have dire consequences on the survival of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

"It's a sobering reality we're in," Georgia Institute of Technology coral reef scientist Kim Cobb told Vice.

Temperatures in the waters surrounding the reef have been high in recent weeks, part of the months-long heatwave that brought devastating fires to Australia that ringed the country in December, forcing thousands from their homes and killing millions of animals. The fires were followed by massive flooding in February.

As Maddie Stone reported for Vice, the heat has led to a dangerous situation for the survival of the reef:

For the past few weeks, the Great Barrier Reef has been running a fever, with temperatures along the 1,400 mile-long ecosystem hovering a degree Celsius or more above normal. At these temperatures, corals become stressed and start to bleach, jettisoning the colorful algae that provide them their food and turning a bloodless white. If the water remains warm for too long, the algae won't return, and the corals will starve.

Experts worry the Great Barrier Reef is now uncomfortably close to that tipping point.

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NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Program expects widespread bleaching, the organization said, from the north to the south of the reef. 

"You're looking at a bigger, more widespread event," program director Mark Eakin told Vice

Imaging from the organization shared by James Cook University Coral Reef Studies director Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter showed the increase in temperature. 

"More widespread than 2016 or 2017, but hopefully not quite as intense," said Hughes. "I'm particularly concerned about the south, which has not been exposed to widespread bleaching before."

As Common Dreams reported in February, scientists observing the rising sea temperatures around the reef described the situation then as on "a knife edge."

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