FILE - An undated handout photo received from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, April 19, 2018, shows a mass bleaching event of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. (Mia Hoogenboom)
FILE - An undated handout photo received from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Apr. 19, 2018, shows a mass bleaching event of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. (Mia Hoogenboom/ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/ AFP)

Scientists have discovered that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost more than half of its coral populations between 1995 and 2017.  

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies say coral bleaching, which occurs when corals expel algae that live inside their tissues, has occurred among all coral species and specimens of all ages.   

Coral bleaching is triggered by rising ocean temperatures caused primarily by climate change. 

The researchers also found that record-breaking ocean temperatures in 2016 and 2017 triggered mass bleaching events that resulted in fewer baby corals and fewer large breeding adult ones, compromising the reef’s ability to recover. 

One of the study’s co-authors says the reef suffered its most extensive bleaching event in March of this year, especially in its southern region.  

The Great Barrier Reef stretches across 2,300 kilometers down Australia’s northeastern coast and is home to a wide variety of marine life, making it the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. The region was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1981.