This shot captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite displays the world’s largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef. Made up of coral polyps along with algae (zooxanthellae), it extends over 2,300 kilometres off the coast of Queensland, Australia over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The reef hosts over 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands, over 411 types of hard coral and one-third of the globe’s soft corals. The reef is special because it is the only living organism that is substantial enough to be captured by outer-space. The reef’s significance has made it a UNESCO world heritage in 1981.
However, this oceanic beauty is gradually being destroyed due to the devasting effects of climate change. Sea temperatures have soared by 0.4-0.5 °C since the late 19th century, subjecting the reef to greater heat stress and coral bleaching which occurs when water is too warm and the corals expel the algae in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This decreases the capacity for corals to build skeletons, key habitats for the reef’s irreplaceable marine life. The coral bleaching is shown in the image by the white coloured lines circling the various reef systems in the picture.
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