Ask the Conservationist: April 2013

Is the Great Barrier Reef Disappearing?

Climate change and global warming are wreaking havoc on habitats around the world, one of which is coral reefs. climate change, pollution and invasive species are all affecting reefs around the world.

One supporter is concerned about the Great Barrier Reef, in particular.

Read the answer from one of the Conservancy’s experts on oceans and coasts below, and don’t forget to send us your questions on any conservation subject for one of the Conservancy's 550 staff scientists. (Note: We regret that we can only answer one or two questions each month and that we cannot answer the others offline.)

Dmitriy Kernasovskiy asks: Is the Great Barrier Reef disappearing? What would it take to save it?

Alison Green, marine strategies and science coordinator, responds:

The Great Barrier Reef is not disappearing altogether, although it is facing some serious problems that have led to a long term decline in its coral.

Recently, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced some serious cyclones, which is why the situation looks particularly bleak at the moment. Climate change (and the bleaching of coral as a result of changing ocean temperatures) has also caused serious impacts in recent years.

However healthy and resilient ecosystems can recover from these sorts of impacts, which is why the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMPA) has become one of the world leaders in managing coral reef ecosystems for resilience to climate change and other threats.

Another serious issue has been the chronic outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish — which eats coral polyps and has been a major cause of decline in the last few decades. Some scientists believe that these outbreaks may be due to an increase in runoff of nutrients from land, which is an issue that the GBRMPA is addressing through their water quality action plan.

So all is not lost, and the GBRMPA is working hard to halt this decline. It's unlikely that the GBR will disappear, but like all coral reefs around the world, it will change in response to climate change and other threats.

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