Large swaths of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia are dead because of what scientists said is warming ocean water.
Hundreds of miles of the reef's northern sector have fallen victim to global warming, researchers said. Other areas were found to be bleaching, which typically occurs before a coral reef dies.
"We didn't expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years," Terry P. Hughes, the lead author of a paper on the subject, told The New York Times. "In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead."
More than 2,900 individual coral reefs make up the entire reef system, which also includes more than 900 islands. The reef occupies roughly 133,000 square miles.
The paper regarding the status of the Great Barrier Reef was slated to run in Thursday's edition of the journal "Nature."
The Great Barrier Reef is an ancient structure that was named a World Heritage Site in 1981. The bleaching phenomenon, however, has occurred intermittently in recent history. The study's authors wrote it was first documented in the 1980s, and later in 1998, 2002, and 2016.
"Consequently, immediate global action to curb future warming is essential to secure a future for coral reefs," the paper's abstract read.
Hughes told the Times climate change has been affecting the Great Barrier Reef for 18 years, and he said something needs to be done to stop it.
Tourism around the reef adds billions of dollars to Australia's economy every year.
Last year, there was concern over black coal dust that was leaking near the reef.
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