Great Barrier Reef faces coral loss

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in the northeastern city of Townsville say Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in little more than a generation. And the pace of damage has picked up since 2006.

Globally, reefs are being assailed by myriad threats, particularly rising sea temperatures, increased ocean acidity and more powerful storms, but the threat to the Great Barrier Reef is even more pronounced, the AIMS study published on Tuesday found.

Where has all the coral gone? Scientists say that the coral cover could fall to just 5 per cent in the next decade. Pic/Australian institute of marine science/AFP

“In terms of geographic scale and the extent of the decline, it is unprecedented anywhere in the world,” said AIMS chief John Gunn. AIMS scientists studied data from more than 200 individual reefs off the Queensland coast covering the period 1985-2012.

They found cyclone damage caused nearly half the losses, crown-of-thorns starfish more than 40 per cent and coral bleaching from spikes in sea temperatures 10 per cent. Scientists say the 2,000 km long reef ecosystem, also faces a growing threat from shipping driven by the planned expansion of coal.  

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