Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef could be dead within decades because of the effects of global warming, according to a leaked report.
The study warns that the organisms which make up the reef’s coral could be bleached, because of warmer seas.
The report was compiled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and published by The Age newspaper.
The Great Barrier Reef is regarded as the world’s largest living organism.
It is Australia’s number one tourist destination, attracting a million visitors a year, and is home to sharks, turtles and numerous brightly coloured fish.
The IPCC – widely seen as the world’s most authoritative body on global warming – is releasing a report later this week in Paris, summarising the scientific basis for climate change.
In the coming months, the panel will also release two more reports, detailing the consequences of global warming and suggesting possible ways forward.
The draft document obtained by The Age, which is due for official release in April, includes a chapter on Australia.
It warns that the Great Barrier Reef will become “functionally extinct” because of coral bleaching – which occurs when the plant-like organisms that make up the coral die, leaving behind a white limestone skeleton.
It takes at least a decade for coral to start recovering from severe bleaching.
But the reef may not have the chance to recover, scientists warn, as temperatures continue to rise and the sea becomes more acidic. This raises the risk that the coral will die outright.