Renowned holiday hotspot slammed shut to tourists after another 'severe' event

Thailand authorities have closed a popular marine park as a result of coral bleaching, as $5 million in funding is announced on home soil to combat the issue.

Colourful coral seen on the left, beside bleached coral on the right, as authorities grapple with mass bleaching events around the world.
A fresh funding boost of $5 million has been announced today to combat the spiralling situation at the Great Barrier Reef. Source: Getty

A renowned scuba diving hotspot popular with tourists has closed "until the situation is resolved" after yet another "severe coral bleaching" event. A spiralling issue affecting marine parks all over the world, here in Australia coral bleaching and how to combat it has been an intense topic of debate among scientists and environmentalists, with the Great Barrier Reef currently suffering potentially unprecedented damage due to climate change.

According to a report released in April by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, more than half of the 1,000 reefs analysed — out of more than 2,900 in total — had either high, very high or extremely high levels of bleaching. Only a quarter were relatively unaffected.

It's a problem authorities have long been scrambling to manage, with a $5 million boost for tourism operators protecting the reef announced on Monday by the federal government. While the funding has provided a glimmer of hope — disturbing images recently revealed sections of the reef that were previously bleached and showed signs of regrowth, are now again dying.

In Thailand, officials at the Nopparat Thara National Park in the Krabi Province recently announced the temporary closure of tourism and diving activities due to "increasingly severe coral bleaching". Major tourist hotspots including Kai Island, Bat Bay, Poda Island, Puya Bay, Daeng Island, Railay Bay and Yavasum Island are all closed to tourists until further notice.

A photo taken in March 2024 shows severe coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.
Severe coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef photographed in March 2024. Source: George Roff, CSIRO

The move reflects the devastating consequences that coral bleaching can have, with not only the natural environment taking a hit, but also tourism sectors all across the world and those who rely on it for income.

Despite the high-profile funding announcements, bleaching events have actually continued to become more severe and frequent — the reef is now experiencing its fifth in just eight years with around 80 per cent subjected to heat stress. Coral affected during a previous bleaching has died before its reached seven years of age.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, James Cook University’s Professor Terry Hughes said "not much has changed" in a local scale despite financial aid. "None of these expensive, magical fixes have reduced the vulnerability of the Great Barrier Reef to anthropogenic heating," he previously said.

Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef Senator Nita Green agreed it had been a "challenging summer for the reef". "It is important this program continues during this crucial time for monitoring the Reef and building its resilience," she said on Monday.

Left, bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef. Right an image of Tanya Plibersek.
While Tanya Plibersek maintains we must do "everything we can to protect" the Great Barrier Reef, conservationists have criticised the government for continuing to approve new coal mines. Source: George Roff, CSIRO/AAP

"Tourism operators are an extra set of eyes on the Reef. They're in the water every day, so are really well placed to play this important monitoring and protection role. There have been excellent results out of the program to date, so I am pleased that work will continue across the Marine Park, which is particularly important following our summer period in which coral reefs have experienced heat stress."

Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek claimed the government was committed to investing in the reef's future. "We are really happy to be partnering with tourism operators, who don’t just create jobs for Queenslanders but also help us care better for our environment," she said.

"We are investing in the reef’s resilience and restoration, and using the latest science to care for the reef, respond to the impacts of climate change and provide valuable knowledge of Reef health over time."

Corals are home to microscopic algae called zooxanthellae which live within their tissue and cause them to appear brightly coloured. When ocean temperatures rise by as little as one degree Celsius, coral can become stressed and expel the coloured algae. It then appears to be bleached white.

A diver is seen beside bleached coral, as authorities grapple with mass bleaching events around the world.
Coral bleaching has affected reefs around the world, including this site in Indonesia. Source: Getty

While "bleaching" does not immediately kill the coral, without the algae it loses a major nutritional source, and this often results is disease and ultimately death. Warming waters as a result of climate change is a key driver of bleaching, but low tides, agricultural runoff, and too much sunlight are some of the other known causes.

Coral reefs are home to thousands of marine creatures including fish, sea turtles, sea birds, crabs and jellyfish. Humans are affected too, because when reefs die and food webs are broken, industries like fishing and tourism begin to crumble.

The world's first mass bleaching was recorded in the 1980s, however these events have been occurring more frequently over the last two decades, leaving coral without time to recover.

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