Is The Great Barrier Reef Dead? Experts Warn It Can No Longer Be Saved In Its Current Form

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved in its present form, experts have said citing the extraordinary rapidity of climate change.

Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan

The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan was released in 2015 to protect the natural beauty and extraordinary wildlife of the reef as an internationally recognized World Heritage Site. Its objective is to improve the “universal values” of the world’s largest coral reef up to 2050.

In a meeting of the Reef 2050 advisory committee, which provides advice on the implementation of the plan, two experts said that improving the reef’s natural heritage value is no longer possible.

Recommendations now involve taking action to maintain the ecological function of the World Heritage Site amid declining ecological health. Maintaining ecological function refers to getting the ecosystem as a whole to persist, but in a different form as structure and composition may be different from what is now seen.

Experts advised that the plan needs to be revised to aim for something that is more doable and suggested that the new plan could go for maintaining the ecological function of the reef while accepting that its overall health will certainly decline.

Inevitable Damage Due To Climate Change

Global warming has caused unprecedented bleaching in 2016 and 2017 and killed almost half of the corals. Given the likelihood of these events getting worse in the coming years, the loss of coral cover and biodiversity is expected.

“The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and … it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said.

Committed To Reef 2050 Plan

Despite the advice, Queensland environment minister Steven Miles expressed commitment to the aims of Reef 2050 plan.

Miles said that the aim of the Reef 2050 plan was to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s health and resilience even amid climate change. Nonetheless, he criticized Australia’s lack of action on climate change citing that the country does not have a much needed policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many environmentalists agree.

“Until Australia gets serious about playing its part in limiting emissions to 1.5C temperature rise, we are not taking saving the reef seriously,” said World Wildlife Fund campaigner Richard Leck.

Not Yet Dead

Although the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble, experts said it is not yet dead. Coral reef expert Kim Cobb, from Georgia Tech, has said he is convinced that a portion of the Great Barrier reef will stay beyond 2050 amid news of the second year of massive coral bleaching and concerns over the survival of many species.

The coral reefs are still alive and some scientists think they can adapt to a warming world. Scientists have discovered that some corals change algal partners and through this, can acquire algae that are more tolerant to heat.

It is evident though that the declining health of the coral reef will have huge impact on tourism, marine life, people’s livelihood, and food security.

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