Science

The Great Barrier Reef’s Future is Uncertain: New Research Details

The Great Barrier Reef’s Future is Uncertain: New Research Details”

The Great Barrier Reef's corals have been halved over the past 25 years, with scientists identifying climate change and bleaching as culprits.

A team of researchers supervised by Dr. Andy Dietzel, from the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoralCoE), released a statement saying that there are many studies on the changes in the structure of populations of humans, but not enough about coral populations.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral in the last three decades and scientists fear the loss caused by frequent bleaching will compromise its ability to recover. Moreover, the southern portion of the reef experienced record-breaking temperatures in early 2020.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches across 2,300 kilometers down Australia's northeastern coast and is home to a wide variety of marine life, making it the world's largest coral reef ecosystem.

"To know how coral populations will recover from these mass mortality events, we need to learn more about their composition", Andreas Dietzel, a coral researcher at the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University who led the study, said in an email.

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The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, looked at coral communities and the size of the colony between 1995 and 2017 and found that almost all of the coral populations suffered depletions of various amounts. In the Great Barrier Reef alone, there are more than 1,500 species of fish and hundreds of species of corals.

Together with his co-authors, Dr. Dietzel evaluated coral communities and the size of their colony along the length of the Great Barrier Reef between 1995 and 2017.

Coral population sizes are also considered important for the reproductive capacity of the coral.

"We used to think that the Great Barrier Reef is protected by its enormous size - but our results show that even the largest and relatively well-protected coral reef system in the world is increasingly threatened and in decline", Hughes said. The number of coral colonies along sections of 30 reefs had fallen by over 50% in 20 years apart, in 1996 and 2016 respectively. Bleaching does not kill corals right away, but if temperatures remain high, the corals will eventually die, destroying the natural habitat of many species of marine life.

Branched and table-shaped corals provide shelter and habitat for reef dwellers such as fish, and their loss reduces the abundance of fish and the productivity of coral reef fishing. "There's no time to lose, we have to decrease greenhouse gas emissions". Even with its vast size, the supposed resilience of the Great Barrier Reef has no match when it comes to climate change.



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