WWF-Australia/YouTube

Australia's Great Barrier Reef, one of the largest coral reefs in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage area, is facing a more extreme threat than previously thought, the local marine park authority said on Sunday.

The reef has been in danger of coral bleaching–a phenomenon that happens as a result of rising ocean temperatures and industrial pollution–for years. But the marine park authority raised the threat level to the reef to its highest ever on Sunday as an environmental group, WWF-Australia, also released video taken over the weekend showing extensive bleaching:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=Y-1ZvXiBv8s

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In June last year, Australia's environment minister Greg Hunt submitted a report to UNESCO to avoid the reef being classified as a world heritage area "in danger," arguing that the government had a plan in place to minimize damage to the reef.

Environmentalists have criticized the government, saying they haven't been taking proactive steps to ensure the reef's survival. Scientists are concerned about the latest development  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Professor Justin Marshall, an ecologist at the University of Queensland who is involved with CoralWatch, said the Lizard Island reefs had been 90 to 100% bleached, and he had observed similar levels of bleaching in nearby outer stretches such as cod hole, wedge reef and no name reef

"I have never seen coral this heavily bleached," he said. "And we are seeing algae growing on parts, which means it has died.".

Meanwhile, the Australian government has called for corporate sponsors to rehabilitate the reef, a move that environmentalists say side-steps real solutions like curbing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and investment in coal production.