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The rich diversity of marine life on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The rich diversity of marine life on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Image: AP Photo/Brian Cassey

Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral since 1985 - study

A comprehensive new study shows that an area equating to more than twice the size of Wales has been lost in coral cover over the past 27 years.
Oct 2nd 2012, 10:49 AM 4,492 27

AUSTRALIA’S GREAT BARRIER Reef has lost half of its coral cover since 1985 according to the results of a comprehensive new study.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and includes nearly 3,00 individual reefs within 133,205 square miles.

The site is also one of the best protected marine areas in the world, with a third of the Great Barrier Reef marine Park off-limits for fishing and collecting – making findings all the more alarming.

If the area of coral cover lost is replicated across the entire reef, it equates to more than twice the size of Wales.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that reef cover has fallen from 28 per cent to 13.8 per cent over the past 27 years – with the decline speeding up significantly since 1998. The cause of the decline is believed to be the result of a combination of factors, including hurricanes, human activity, coral-eating starfish, and climate change.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlines the contribution of various factors to the coral decline:

  • Storm damage: 48 per cent
  • Consumption by crown-of-horns starfish: 42 per cent
  • Coral bleaching (caused by warmer water): 10 per cent

Researchers have said Australian officials will have to increase efforts to curb controllable threats, like starfish, which are easier to act against than other factors, like hurricanes, in order to stem further erosion.

“The study shows that in the absence of crown-of-thorns, coral cover would increase at 0.89 percent per year, so even with losses due to cyclones and bleaching there should be slow recovery,” said John Gunn, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Researchers said that, at the current rate of loss, the Great Barrier Reef will lose of half of its remaining coral cover by 2022, reports the Washington Post.

Read: Extinction of ocean life is ‘speeding up’>

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Jennifer Wade

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