Here today – gone tomorrow?

The gorgeous coral that draws 2 million tourists a year to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could all be gone by 2025, if global warming keeps pushing up sea temperatures.

Ray Berkelmans, coral bleaching expert with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said coral had no mechanism to withstand the higher temperatures that rob water of its nutrients.

‘Background temperatures have reached the level where every summer we are getting to dangerous conditions,’ Berkelmans told The Australian newspaper.

‘It will be a gradual decline – patch by patch and species group by species group, from one area after another.’

Berkelmans’ warning came after Australia experienced its warmest year on record and after a succession of other experts had sounded the death knell of a tourist attraction the size of Germany.

Queensland University’s Centre for Marine Studies estimates the reef is worth 8 billion Australian dollars (6 billion US dollars) to the local economy and is supporting 12,000 jobs.

‘Reefs will not disappear but they will be devoid of coral, and dominated by other less appealing species such as macro-algae and cyanobacteria (seaweed),’ said a recent report by the centre’s father and son team, Hans and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

The pair said that temperatures are rising at 2 per cent a century and that the capacity of corals to adapt has already been exceeded.

‘The Great Barrier Reef is a balance between calcification and erosion,’ Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said. ‘Take away calcification, the process powered by corals, and whammo! the reef will begin to erode away.’

Prime Minister John Howard’s government is a straggler in global attempts to slow climate change.

Australia along with the United States, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that sets signatories legally binding targets for the reduction of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Along with Washington, Canberra argues that cutting back on emissions would slow its economy.

Source: The Australian