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Hard coral spawning at Lizard Island National Park, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The annual massive coral spawning of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is underway.

Why it matters: Scientists are concerned that recent severe bleaching at the world’s largest coral reef may limit the size of the phenomenon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports. The health status of the World Heritage-listed ecosystem has worsened from "significant concern" to "critical" for the first time, a new report finds.

  • Climate change at the reef is driving ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather, contributing to "dramatic coral decline, and as a result decreasing populations of marine species," notes the report, published by UNESCO advisory body the International Union for Conservation of Nature Wednesday.
  • Professor Terry Hughes, who co-authored a study released in October finding the reef has lost over half of its coral populations in the past three decades because of ocean warming, told the Australian ABC: "Dead corals don't breed."

What to watch: James Cook University researcher Katie Chartrand told the news outlet that she and colleagues have been conducting "large-scale larval seeding using these inflatable nursery systems" and will check on their progress in January.

  • "In favour of corals this year is the La Niña event," she said. "So there is a strong chance that they're going to get a reprieve from [bleaching]."

Go deeper: Scientists discover reef that's taller than the Empire State Building

Go deeper

Over 60,000 koalas killed or harmed by Australia's "black summer" fires

A koala and her joey during rehabilitation at Taronga Zoo in Sydney after a bushfire ravaged their habitat in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in the Australian of New South Wales in January 13. Photo: Cole Bennetts/The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images

Australia's "'black summer" bushfires killed, wounded or displaced 143 million mammals — including over 61,000 koalas, per a report published Monday

Why it matters: Koalas in New South Wales and Queensland were in "rapid decline" before last summer's fires ravaged the states, per a statement from Dermot O'Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, which commissioned the research. It's "a deeply disturbing number for a species already in trouble," he added.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

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