A new 22 year study has shown that the Australian Great Barrier Reef has lost over half its small, medium and large corals.
While it was known that the Great Barrier Reef was struggling and in decline for a while, this is the first study that shows the scale of the problem.
Coral reefs are vital to the lives of humans and animals on planet earth. They provide oxygen, clean up the ocean, and act as shelters for humans and animals against storms and tsunamis.
Watch: David Attenborough’s interactive guide of the Great Barrier Reef
They also house over 1,500 species of fish, 100 species of sharks and rays, 30 species of whales and dolphins and six species of sea turtle.
“The decline occurred in both shallow and deeper water, and across virtually all species—but especially in branching and table-shaped corals.” said co-author Professor Terry Hughes.
What most worried the authors was the loss of the key corals that provide the structure for the entire reef ecosystem.
“These were the worst affected by record-breaking temperatures that triggered mass bleaching in 2016 and 2017,” Prof Hughes said.
Climate Change & Coral Bleaching
The rise of the earth’s temperature has been the major catalyst in the decline in the Great Barrier Reef.
Climate change has made events such as marine heatwaves more common. These events result in bleaching, and the death of large chunks of the reef.
“We used to think the Great Barrier Reef is protected by its sheer size—but our results show that even the world’s largest and relatively well-protected reef system is increasingly compromised and in decline,” Professor Hughes said.
There is no time to lose
Early 2020 was another traumatic event for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Another marine heatwave hit, and more coral reefs were lost.
With 2020 on track to be another record year for the earth’s temperature, Professor Hughes warms that we are quickly running out of time to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and all other corals world wide.