Reef ‘gone in 20 years’

MARINE scientists say global warming could transform the Great Barrier Reef into a bleached maze of dead coral within 20 years.The warning comes amid bleaching over the summer near the Keppel Islands, which threatens to spread to large sections of the World Heritage-listed reef.

Australian Institute of Marine Science coral bleaching expert Ray Berkelmans said the damage – which occurs when warm temperatures rob the coral of nutrition – may mark the start of the reef’s demise.

“Background temperatures have reached the level where every summer we are getting to dangerous conditions,” he said. “It will be a gradual decline – patch by patch and species group by species group from one area one after the other.”

The damage to the environment will also hurt the economy. The reef is worth $5.8 billion to the national economy, employs more than 60,000 people and is visited by more than two million tourists each year.

Scientists are urging state and federal governments to reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid the bleaching that hit east Africa in 1998, when 50 per cent of reefs were lost.

“The sorts of things that go on in other parts of the world can happen here and it’s just a matter of how warm the temperatures are and how long they last,” University of Queensland scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said the Government was committed to addressing climate change and aimed to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 85 million tonnes.

“We are investing $2 million to develop an action plan to increase the resilience of the reef and we have the best scientists monitoring and working on this issue,” he said.

Source: The Australian