Watch how coral bleaching happens in warming waters

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Most Devastating Coral Bleaching Event Underway On The Great Barrier Reef

Australian researchers have captured an event that's happening with alarming frequency worldwide: Coral bleaching.

A team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia filmed a particular type of mushroom coral as it responded to warming water temperatures.

Researchers found the solitary Heliofungia actiniformis coral inflated to more than three times its normal body size before suddenly expelling the tiny algae cells that live in a symbiotic relationship within its tissues.

The algae, called Symbiodinium, are corals' main source of food and give coral their vibrant color.

See coral bleaching from all over the world:

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This photo provided by NOAA, taken in May 2016 shows bleaching and some dead coral around Jarvis Island, which is part of the U.S. Pacific Remote Marine National Monument. Scientists found 95 percent of the coral is dead in what had been one of the worldâs most lush and isolated tropical marine reserve. Researchers finishing an emergency U.S. government undersea expedition Wednesday described what they called a graveyard of coral around Jarvis Island in the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument. Normally, a unique ocean current brings cold water up from the deep to make that underwater region vibrant with coral, nutrients, fish and sharks (NOAA/Bernardo Vargas-Angel via AP)
Corals are seen at the Great Barrier Reef in this January 2002 handout photo. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the world's oceans due to climate change, combined with rising sea temperatures, could accelerate coral bleaching, destroying some reefs before 2050, says a new Australian study. Picture taken January 2002. REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/Handout (AUSTRALIA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Corals are seen at the Great Barrier Reef in this January 2002 handout photo. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the world's oceans due to climate change, combined with rising sea temperatures, could accelerate coral bleaching, destroying some reefs before 2050, says a new Australian study. Picture taken January 2002. REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/Handout (AUSTRALIA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
An undated photo shows the effect of "bleaching" on coral off Caye Caulker, Belize. Much of the 200 miles (320 km) of Belize's coral reef has been "bleached" in the last decade and some scientists warn it is likely to die, a victim of global warming. To match feature ENVIRONMENT CORAL BELIZE REUTERS/Susannah Sayler (BELIZE)
Marine activist Suzanne Kavanagh swims above coral suffering from bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The world's largest coral structure is experiencing its worst ever case of bleaching, which scientists fear could threaten its fragile marine environment. Picture taken 25APR98. REUTERS/Handout
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Corals, Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Mushroom coral, Ctenactis echinata, Komodo National Park, Indian Ocean, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) Aerial view of the Agincourt number three reef from the Quicksilver Eight pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. A team of researchers have placed a shade cloth measuring five metres by five metres on the surface of the water to protect the coral below from the sun, which is believed to be causing bleaching on the reef, 10 February 2005. THE AGE Picture by SIMON O'DWYER (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
This photo, taken in Thailand in the summer of 2010, is one of many parts of the world where scientists found coral bleaching in 2010, the warmest year on record. Bleaching weakens corals and in some cases kills them. (Mark Eakin/NOAA/MCT via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Corals, Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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But as ocean temperatures rise due to global warming and natural climate variability, corals are becoming increasingly stressed and expelling their algae.

Pollution and extreme weather events can also cause coral to shed the algae. Without their food source, coral turn white and grow more susceptible to disease and death, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

During the past few years, the longest-lasting global coral bleaching event on record has been occurring, a result of global warming and an El Niño event.

Image: noaa national ocean service

While scientists have long known that coral bleaching can happen, the new video provides the first recorded evidence of this particular coral species' bloat-then-burp response to heat stress, according to a peer-reviewed study published Aug. 12 in the journal Coral Reefs.

SEE ALSO: Dying coral reefs are killing fish by masking their predators

Researchers Brett Lewis and Luke Nothdurft from QUT's marine facility used a microscope, digital camera and smart tablet to capture the moment.

They raised the water temperature in a 2.6-gallon aquarium system from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) to 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over 12 hours. The coral remained in the heated tank for up to eight days.

Check out this time lapse of coral bleaching:


"What's really interesting is just how quickly and violently the coral forcefully evicted its resident [algae] symbionts," Lewis said in a press release. "The H. actiniformis [coral] began ejecting the symbionts within the first two hours of us raising the water temperature of the system."

But the QUT research team suggested the mushroom coral's fast response to water stress could actually help protect it from dangerous bleaching events over the long-term.

This particular type of coral was one of the very few species on the Great Barrier Reef considered relatively resilient to bleaching, even as other nearby species suffered the worst effects.

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