The news ain’t so good from the Great Barrier Reef.
According to a new study, the massive reef has lost half of its coral cover over the last 27 years. Damage from storms, bleaching, and a species of starfish that feed on coral are overwhelmingly to blame for the loss. Forces of both nature and man contribute, and if these processes continue to go unchecked the Reef’s coral cover could be decreased by another half by 2022.
Over the same period as the current study, coral reefs in the Caribbean have diminished a staggering 80 percent. The prospects for coral life are so dire that some scientists have accepted the eventual calamity and have begun freezing away polyp material for a post-’reef armageddon’ revival.
As humanity continues on the path of increased industrialization and technological advance our environmental impact on the Earth also continues. The Great Barrier Reef’s decline can be looked at as a canary warning that our influence on the world’s delicate ecosystem is increasing. Will carbon dioxide emissions and pollutants become more deadly to the Reef and the world as a whole in the future? Where do we draw the line on how much of the Earth we destroy? Our technologies will continue to advance and, sadly it seems, so will our inability to shape how that technology affects the environment.
The study concluded that the loss of half of Great Barrier Reef degradation over the past 27 years was due mostly to storm damage (48 percent), Crown-of-thorns starfish (42 percent), and bleaching (10 percent), the loss of pigmented algae that the coral need to survive. A total of 214 reef sites were surveyed. Those sites showed a coral cover decrease from 28 percent to 13.8 percent between 1985 and 2012. The degradation appears to be accelerating, however, as two-thirds of coral cover loss occurred since 1998. A mere three out of the 214 reef sites showed no change over the monitored period.