Water And Oceanography

Researchers Feel the Great Barrier Reef can be Restored if Action is taken

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"Researchers Feel the Great Barrier Reef can be Restored if Action is taken"
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A new study conducted by researchers in Australia has determined the country's Great Barrier Reef is suffering a devastating drop in coral. According to researchers, half of the reef has vanished over the past 27 years.

Many factors are attributed to the decline of the coral including intensive and strong tropical cyclones, coral being eaten by crown-of-thorns starfish, and coral bleaching (10 percent), reports the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). Coral bleaching occurs when water gets too warm and algae is expelled, leaving a white color on the coral. This does not kill coral, but does tend to weaken it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

Atmospheric climate changes were also given as a factor.

One researcher has been observing the reef since 1988 and she has seen the differences first hand.

"I hear of the changes anecdotally, but this is the first long-term look at the overall status of the reef," Katharina Fabricius, a coral reef ecologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and study co-author, told LiveScience. "There are still a lot of fish, and you can see giant clams, but not the same color and diversity as in the past."

Scientists also noted that if the trends continue as they have over the past several decades that the Great Barrier Reef could see another halving by the year 2022.

Crown-of-thorns starfish seem to be one of the largest problems, according to several articles posted on the subject, however there is a perception that this is one of the most controllable aspects to restoring the Reef.  Research reportedly showed that the Australian reef could rebuild itself in 20-30 years if starfish population does not continue to be overrun. Scientists believe if steps are taken to contain the starfish that the deterioration of the reef could be restored.

"We can't stop the storms but, perhaps we can stop the starfish. If we can, then the Reef will have more opportunity to adapt to the challenges of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification", says John Gunn, CEO of AIMS.

To obtain data, researchers surveyed 214 different reefs and tracked the drop in living coral from 1985 to 2012. Scientists estimate 3.4 percent of the reef is lost annually. Collecting the data was time intensive and took an investment of about $50 million, noted AIMS.

Full details were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PDF].

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

From Around the Web

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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.livescience.com/23612-great-barrier-reef-steep-decline.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Full-PNAS-paper-for-publication.pdf