The reef is being slowly turned in to a wasteland of dead coral. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Acropora
Scientists have conceded that the outlook for the world's largest coral reef is looking increasingly grim.
Bleaching occurs when consistently high temperatures cause coral reefs to expel their symbiotic algae - a process that turns them deathly white and from which many do not recover.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which has long been under threat due to the effects of climate change, has now declined to such an extent that experts have conceded that, unless something radical is done, it may no longer be possible to save the Reef in its current form.
Instead, they argue, the focus should be on the lesser goal of "maintaining ecological function."
"There is great concern about the future of the Reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades," the panel, which was set up by the Australian government, wrote in a recent communique.
"The concept of 'maintaining ecological function' refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today."
"Members agreed that, in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now."