The Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved

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The Great Barrier Reef The Great Barrier Reef Screenshot/Youtube

The damage to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia has suffered is irreversible and it can no longer be saved, experts say.

In a study conducted in 2016 by the Arc Centre of Excellence, scientists have confirmed the largest die-off of corals ever recorded on the Reef.

Areas surveyed last year found nearly 95  % of bleach damage, while the worst affected area, a 700 km swath of reefs in the northern region, has lost an average of 67 per cent of its shallow-water corals.

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who undertook aerial surveys in both 2016 and 2017, said rising temperatures is the number one threat.“The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures driven by global warming," he said. "This year, 2017, we are seeing mass bleaching, even without the assistance of El Niño conditions.”

Bleaching

Bleaching occurs when water is too warm causing corals to expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. Although corals can survive a bleaching event, they are more vulnerable to destruction. Experts say that while it takes at least a decade for even the fastest growing corals to fully recover, repeated bleaching can cause irreversible damage. 

"Mass bleaching events 12 months apart offer zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016," the experts from Arc say. Four bleaching events have occurred in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. 

With climate change set to continue, the concern around the future of one of the natural wonders of the world is growing.

“As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years,” Prof Hughes said.

Experts are now campaigning to put a stop to the damage before its too late.

The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was introduced in 2015 by the Australian and Queensland governments with the aim to protect the Great Barrier Reef, which is home to a variety of species of plants and fish and is one of the best managed marine ecosystems in the world.

Earlier this month, an independent expert panel from the trust raised their concern about the Reef, reporting that coral bleaching since early 2016 has changed the area fundamentally.

“Members agreed that in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now," they concluded.

Both the panel and Prof. Hughes agree that a key solution lies in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing,” he said.

Being under such serious threat, the Reef may soon be listed as a “World Heritage Site in danger," a status the Australian government has been fighting for years.

While great concern remains about its future, the Reef 2050 panel agreed that "hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades."

 

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