Burning Away: Climate Change Can Severely Damage The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef will suffer “irreversible” damage by 2030 unless temperature rise is kept below 2°C, a recent report from the WWF warns. If actions aren’t taken to lower carbon emissions and the consequent rise in temperatures, the reef will cease to be a coral-dominated ecosystem.
The Great Barrier Reef has lost over 50% of its coral cover in the last 30 years
Warming of oceans can lead to coral bleaching and an increase in coral disease. Several studies have linked the outbreak and spread of the virulent black-band disease, which has affected parts of the Great Barrier Reef, to warming ocean temperatures.
Report coauthor Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, works in a lab on Heron Island, situated on the Great Barrier Reef. His work has involved testing the response of corals to various temperatures and has shown that a predicted temperature rise of 4°C will be catastrophic for the reef. “Corals can exist in temperature 1°C higher than the current summer maximum, but beyond that you get coral bleaching and mass mortality,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “Beyond 2°C, you don’t really have coral dominated reefs anymore and there’s evidence that 1.5°C is beyond the limits too.”
University of Queensland scientist Dr. Selina Ward, the report’s other contributor, said that climate change is weakening the reef, making coral more susceptible to disease and less likely to reproduce. “If we want to save the Great Barrier Reef we need to act immediately and make dramatic reductions in carbon pollution; we need to move away from fossil fuels,” she said. Conservationists have raised concerns that the vast ecosystem is under threat from coastal development, pollution, dredging, and climate change.
Last year, the Australian Institute of Marine Science released a report that revealed the reef has lost 50% of its coral cover over the past 30 years to storms, coral bleaching, and coral-eating crown of thorns starfish. With acute pressure from ocean acidification and disease, the future of the reef remains grim.
Dive into coral research with Earthwatch. Join scientist David Bourne on Recovery of the Great Barrier Reef to monitor the spread of coral disease in this majestic reef.