Global warming bleaches Australia
Australia, like many regions of the world, has already begun to experience the impacts of global warming. In recent years, severe wildfires and drought have not only caused widespread damage to the land, but also negatively impacted tourism and the economy. Perhaps the most noteworthy effect global warming has had on Australia can be seen on the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching threatens the world’s most diverse ocean ecosystem.
Global warming is a major contributor to Australian drought. Record high temperatures are increasing evaporation, damaging vegetation and reducing water for irrigation in the continent’s agricultural basin. Sustained high temperatures are as hazardous for people as they are for plants. The average annual death toll from heat waves is over 1,100 people in Australia and that number only stands to increase.
In 2006, Australia experienced its worst drought in the last millennium. The Murray-Darling River System, which produces well over half of the country's water supply, dropped 54 percent below its record low. In February of 2009, 210 people were killed in widespread bushfires that occurred in conjunction with a record-setting heat wave and on the heels of a 13-year drought.
Great Barrier Reef
Australia’s marine life is already migrating to colder southern waters to escape the warming, forcing fishing fleets to travel further out to sea for their catch. But complex ecosystems like coral reefs have nowhere to go. As water temperature rises, coral reefs expel their life-giving algae and turn white, or “bleach.” Once they bleach they often never recover.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral system in the world and the only living thing visible from space, has already experienced massive bleaching events. It is one of the planet’s most remarkable collections of biodiversity and a hugely popular tourist destination. Warming waters not only threaten marine life, but Australia’s economy as well.
In addition to bleaching, increasing deaths of seabirds around the Great Barrier Reef have overlapped with periods of intense coral bleaching. Scientists believe that a reduced fish supply due to loss or migration of fish stocks has forced these birds to overexert themselves to the point of death in search of food.