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Great Barrier Reef Doomed? Global Warming Has Put 99 Percent of Coral at Risk, Finds Study

An Acropora coral colony grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia. (Credit: REUTERS)

An Acropora coral colony grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia. (Credit: REUTERS)

The Great Barrier Reef, stretching for 2,300 kilometres along the northeastern coast of Australia, has lost more than half its coral. Coral-bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 has further damaged its health.

The world’s most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef is looking at large-scale destruction with almost 70 to 99 percent of corals feared to cease if the earth continues to face global warming with rapid speed. A report by the Australian Academy of Science recently said that the Paris Agreement that aimed to keep the global warming at 1.5 degrees “has now slipped out of reach and is virtually impossible.” The report also said that Australia has also particularly warmed up by 1.4 degrees and if this keeps going on, the reef will not sustain for long.

The Great Barrier Reef, stretching for 2,300 kilometres along the northeastern coast of Australia, has lost more than half its coral in the past three decades. Coral-bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 has further damaged its health and affected its animal, bird and marine population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report. Such bleaching occurs when hotter water destroys the algae which the coral feeds on, causing it to turn white.

The report further observed that if Australia reaches global warming at 2 degrees, only 1 percent of the reef is expected to survive. Scientists say that only if the warming fixates, the surviving corals will be able to return to cover the reef. Along with the reef, the global warming effect will also cause other iconic ecosystems such as the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park to be affected tremendously.

The report further warns that at 3°C of global warming, many of the country’s ecological systems would be destroyed.

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International Union for Conservation of Nature has moved the reef’s status to critical and deteriorating on its watchlist. Some activities which threaten it, like fishing and coastal development, can be tackled by the management authorities, the union said. Progress towards safeguarding the reef under a long-term sustainability plan through to 2050 has been slow and it has not been possible to stop its deterioration, it said.

However, scientists have been involved in various individual projects aimed at improving and helping to safeguard the reef. Coral populations from Australia’s first “Coral IVF” trial on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 have not only survived recent bleaching events, but are on track to reproduce and spawn this year, researchers say.

Peter Harrison, director of Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre led the development of a larvae restoration technique which involves collecting coral sperm and eggs during the annual mass spawning on the reef. The project, along with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has managed to re-establish 60 coral reproducing population on the reef through Coral IVF.

(With inputs from Reuters)