Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This picture taken on March 7, 2022 shows the current condition of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of the Australian state of Queensland.

This picture taken on March 7, 2022 shows the current condition of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of the Australian state of Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef has again been hit with "widespread" bleaching, authorities said on March 18, 2022, as higher-than-average ocean temperatures off Australia's northeast threaten the already struggling World Heritage site. (Photo: Glenn Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)

'Disastrous News': Widespread Bleaching of Great Barrier Reef Underway

"This is a sure sign that climate change caused by burning coal, oil, and gas is threatening the very existence of our reef," said one campaigner.

Andrea Germanos

An assessment of the Great Barrier Reef's health released Friday reveals widespread bleaching of the world's largest coral organism, sparking fresh demands for the Australian government to ditch fossil fuels and finally commit to protecting both the UNESCO site and planetary health.

"Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are not supposed to bleach in cooler La Niña summers. 2022 is a first, thanks to anthropogenic heating."

"While not yet officially declared a mass bleaching event, this is still disastrous news for our reef, the marine life, and communities that rely on its health," said Dr. Lissa Schindler, Great Barrier Reef campaign manager with the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

The March 18 update from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority suggests a fourth major bleaching event since 2016 is underway and points to warmer than average sea surface temperatures—0.5−2°C above average throughout the park, with some areas ranging 2−4°C above average.

"Bleaching has been detected across the marine park—it is widespread but variable, across multiple regions, ranging in impact from minor to severe," the assessment states.

"Most observations of bleaching have been of paling or fluorescing," the update continues, "but several locations have whole colonies bleached white"—a status "consistent with the patterns of heat stress experienced on the reef this summer."

Of particular note, say reef defenders, is that the widespread bleaching comes during a La Niña year, which can help cool waters.

"This is a sure sign that climate change caused by burning coal, oil, and gas is threatening the very existence of our reef," declared Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate impacts campaigner Martin Zavan.

According to bleaching expert Prof. Terry Hughes, "Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are not supposed to bleach in cooler La Niña summers. 2022 is a first, thanks to anthropogenic heating."

Hughes also pointed to the marine park authority's aerial surveys that "reveal (so far) a footprint of mass bleaching similar to 2017, when the central 500km region was hardest hit."

"How many more maps will it take to trigger real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?" he asked.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced sustained criticism from climate campaigners for doubling down on fossil fuel projects amid the planetary emergency. The prime minister also drew sharp criticism last year after launching a successful lobbying effort to keep the reef off a list of World Heritage Sites considered "in danger." Reporting earlier this month that the Australian government pushed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to soften its assessment of the reef being "in crisis" sparked additional criticism.

In a lengthy Twitter thread Friday, Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter debunked Morrison's claims of having protected the reef and pointed to the government's multiple climate failures.

"Preserving the reef would require clear and meaningful climate action, like a meaningful net-zero plan and a moratorium on new coal, oil, and gas projects," said Ritter. "Instead, Australia was recently ranked last out of 170 nations for climate action."

Ritter also noted that last year his group "delivered legal notice directly to Scott Morrison [and] advised he is in breach of his World Heritage Treaty obligations to protect the reef."

"So, it's time to cut the crap," he added. "We know the reef is in danger, but we also know how to protect it."

Addressing the prime minister, Ritter said, "Do your job to safeguard Australians and our magnificent natural heritage, by speeding up our transition to clean energy and urgently phasing out fossil fuels."

The update was released just days before UNESCO's reef monitoring mission begins.

AMCS's Schindler said that the mission delegates must "witness the severity and widespread nature of this devastating event and while out there the Morrison government should explain to the mission why they continue to approve and cut red tape for fossil fuel projects."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Impeach Justice Clarence Thomas' Petition Nears 1 Million Signatures

"He has shown he cannot be an impartial justice and is more concerned with covering up his wife's coup attempts than the health of the Supreme Court," reads the petition.

Jake Johnson ·


'Tipping Point of No Return' Feared as Amazon Rainforest Fires Surge

"Up to now, the Biden administration has only legitimized the Brazilian government's anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental agenda," said Greenpeace USA.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo