By Graham Readfearn
Temperatures over the Great Barrier Reef in December were the highest on record with “alarming” levels of heat that have put the ocean jewel on the verge of another mass bleaching of corals, according to analysis from US government scientists seen by Guardian Australia.
On Friday the Morrison government announced $1bn for reef conservation over the next nine years if it wins the next election – a pledge branded by some as a cynical attempt to stop the reef being placed on the world heritage “in danger” list at a meeting in July.
Conservationists and scientists mostly welcomed the pledge, but many said the government needed to greatly improve its greenhouse gas emissions targets and stop supporting fossil fuel projects.
In the three months leading up to 14 December, an analysis from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) says heat stress over the corals reached a level “unprecedented in the satellite record” for that time of year.
According to the analysis, temperatures were so hot that between mid–November and mid–December, the minimum temperatures over more than 80% of the reef were higher for that period than previous maximums.
Dr William Skirving, of Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch, said his team “were surprised, shocked and concerned” when the analysis, covering each year from 1985, was completed.
“There’s never been heat stress like that in our records. It’s completely out of character and speaks to the fact that the minimum temperatures were higher than the previous maximums. This is almost certainly a climate change signal.
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