The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced its most intensive and extensive coral bleaching event on record in early 1998. Mild bleaching commenced in late January and intensified by late February/early March 1998. Broad-scale aerial surveys conducted of 654 reefs (∼23% of reefs on the GBR) in March and April 1998, showed that 87% of inshore reefs were bleached at least to some extent (>1% of coral cover) compared to 28% of offshore (mid- and outer-shelf) reefs. Of inshore reefs 67% had high levels of bleaching (>10% of coral) and 25% of inshore reefs had extreme levels of bleaching (>60% of coral). Fewer offshore reefs (14%) showed high levels of bleaching while none showed extreme levels of bleaching. Ground-truth surveys of 23 reefs, which experienced bleaching in intensities ranging from none to extreme, showed that the aerial survey data are likely to be underestimates of the true extent and intensity of bleaching on the GBR. The primary cause of this bleaching event is likely to be elevated sea temperature and solar radiation, exacerbated by lowered salinity on inshore and some offshore reefs in the central GBR.
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