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La Grande barrière de Corail affaiblie par le réchauffement climatique

La Grande Barrière de Corail est un récif qui se situe au large du Queensland, en Australie. Inscrit au Patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO, ce célèbre récif est connu pour être visible depuis l’espace : long de 2.600 kilomètres pour une superficie de 344.400 kilomètres carrés, il s’agit de la plus grande structure créée par des organismes vivants du monde. Véritable joyau de la nature, la Grande barrière est cependant menacée par les effets du réchauffement climatique, comme beaucoup d’écosystèmes tropicaux.

Une équipe de scientifiques australiens vient d’annoncer que la Grande barrière venait de subir, pour la seconde année consécutive, un grave épisode de blanchissement en raison de la hausse des températures de notre planète. Un phénomène qui sonne sans aucun doute le glas d’une partie de ses coraux.

« Des coraux qui ont blanchi ne sont pas nécessairement morts. Mais dans la partie centrale de la Grande barrière nous nous attendons à des pertes très élevées. Il faut au moins une décennie pour le rétablissement total des coraux qui grandissent le plus vite. Alors deux épisodes graves de blanchissement à 12 mois d’intervalle font que les récifs endommagés en 2016 n’ont aucune chance de se rétablir », explique James Kerry, biologiste à l’Université James Cook.

En 2016, après plusieurs décennies de hausse des températures de l’océan, les scientifiques australiens enregistrent le plus grave épisode de blanchissement jamais enregistré dans l’écosystème de la Grande barrière de corail. Ce phénomène se caractérise par la décoloration des coraux, signe de leur dépérissement.

Ce blanchissement est provoqué par la hausse des températures de l’eau qui entraine le rejet des algues symbiotiques. Privés de ces organismes qui ont un rôle primordial dans le développement de leur métabolisme, les coraux n’assimilent plus les nutriments et perdent ainsi leurs couleurs vives.

L’épisode de blanchissement en cours est le quatrième de ces 20 dernières années (après ceux de 1998, 2002 et 2016). « Entre l’année dernière et cette année, 1.500 kilomètres de récifs ont été affectés par le blanchissement. Ce qui fait que seul le tiers sud du récif est indemne », précise Terry Hughes, de l’Université James Cook.

En 1998 et en 2016, les scientifiques ont souligné l’impact désastreux d’El Niño sur l’état des coraux. Ce phénomène météorologique, qui se déroule tous les 4 à 6 ans, entraine une hausse des températures des eaux du Pacifique, favorisant le blanchissement des coraux. « Cette année, nous assistons à un épisode de blanchissement très marqué alors même qu’El Niño ne sévit pas », déplore M. Hughes. Même si le passage du cyclone Debbie a probablement eu quelques effets négatifs.

« Il est évident que le récif est confronté à de nombreux défis, le plus pressant étant le réchauffement climatique. Plus les températures vont augmenter et plus fréquents seront les épisodes de blanchissement. La solution est de réduire les émissions carbones, mais le temps presse », explique le scientifique.

Les scientifiques estiment que les ruissellements agricoles, le développement économique et la prolifération des acanthasters (étoiles de mer qui détruisent les coraux) sont également des menaces importantes pour la Grande barrière. Le gouvernement australien s’est engagé à investir plus de 2 milliards de dollars australiens dans des mesures de protection de ses coraux.

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