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Shocking images have emerged from New Zealand showing millions of once velvety brunettes sea ​​sponges bleached bones white, the worst such mass bleaching event on record, according to marine scientists.

The alarming finding comes amid a continued rise in ocean temperatures, a trend scientists say is largely due to emissions from fossil fuels warming the planet.

New Zealand scientists discovered thousands of bleached sea sponges in May this year, in the cold waters off the country’s southwest coast. Other findings showed the damage was much worse, with millions – possibly tens of millions – of sea sponges affected across the Fiordland region.

“It’s one of the most abundant sponges in Fiordland, so it’s a very large-scale event,” said James Bell, professor of marine biology at Victoria University of New Zealand.

Bell, who led the team tasked with spotting the initial bleaching event last month, told CNN that despite the extensive mass bleaching, some sponges were still alive and consuming oxygen.

“This area was so abundant and rich in marine life and it was almost like a white graveyard when we discovered it, it was really devastating and traumatic,” he said. “We are able to carry out experiments on board our boat to try to understand how much the sponges have been affected by warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, many of them were already in very poor health and stressed.

Sea sponges come in a variety of sizes, colors and textures and play a crucial role in marine ecosystems, providing food and shelter for other marine animals like crabs, seaweed and fish.

“They pump large volumes of water and capture tiny particles, bacteria, plankton and algae and also recycle carbon on the seabed,” Bell said. “They also provide shelter for sea creatures and increase seabed habitat areas. They are very underrated creatures.

Last year was the warmest on record for the world’s oceans for the third consecutive year, which has put massive additional pressure on marine ecosystems.

This year Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its sixth mass bleaching event. Studies have also confirmed coral bleaching at several reef sites.

According to studies, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its coral population due to climate change over the past three decades.

Sea sponges, like coral, are also strongly affected by extreme ocean temperatures and turn white in response to stress at excessively warm temperatures.

Sea creatures play an important role in marine ecosystems, and scientists say their loss could affect millions of other marine animals.

Warming ocean temperatures are also affecting sea sponge populations in other parts of New Zealand, Bell noted. Expanses of Dead Sea sponges have been discovered in the northern coastal areas of the country. Some were found to “melt” in the midst of a long sea heat wave.

“The mass bleaching event again underscores how dramatically the oceans are changing due to global warming and climate change,” he said. “That should serve as a wake-up call. We need climate action now, not in 10 or 15 years, because by then it would be too late and we would have lost all ecosystems and all species.


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