Half the Great Barrier Reef is gone

Bleached coral at the Keppel Islands on the southern Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. Image courtesy of Reuters/UK Guardian

Just in case you lucky duckies down under feel left out of the incredible shrinking Arctic ice cap adventure, you have an exquisite shrinking biome to call your own. A new analysis indicates that roughly half the coral in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia has gone the way of the Dodo bird, and it did so in less than 30 years.

UK Guardian— Coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef has dropped by more than half over the last 27 years, according to scientists, a result of increased storms, bleaching and predation by population explosions of a starfish which sucks away the coral’s nutrients. At present rates of decline, the coral cover will halve again within a decade, though scientists said the reef could recover if the crown-of-thorns starfish can be brought under control and, longer term, global carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.

“This latest study provides compelling evidence that the cumulative impacts of storms, crown-of-thorns starfish (Cots) and two bleaching events have had a devastating effect on the reef over the last three decades,” said John Gunn, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Since the odds of getting climate change under control in this century are essentially zero, the reef will cease to exist. At the present rates of decline it will transform into a vast undersea rain forest into isolated pockets providing only a glimpse of its former glory for future tourists and scientists to study. The rest of it will be crumbling white skeletons of the once mighty Cnidarian jungle. And that’s probably a good case scenario.


  1. w00dview says

    You know, I honestly wished the deniers were right. I wish climate change was a big hoax and the evil doers were arrested and everything was just hunky dory. I wished they fiddled with the data. The pictures of the melting sea ice were just meticulously photoshopped and polar bears were doing great. I wished the deniers were actual sceptics who had a convincing, coherent alternative hypothesis as to what is happening out in our atmosphere. I wished there was a great cabal of immoral scientists blocking dissent and even controlling the media to show us all these images and news of the damage that is already taken place. I wished Climategate actually showed up irrefutable evidence that we were being taken for fools. I wish that the seas were not being threatened by ocean acidification. I wished that some of the most beautiful, complex awe inspiring and vital ecosystems were not under threat from the fossils fuels we burn.

    I’m sure climate scientists wish they were wrong too.

  2. Francisco Bacopa says

    And the Flower Gardens reef off the coast of Texas could disappear any year now. It’s a deep reef, so bleaching is not an issue, but runoff sediments and nutrients from the Mississippi River Dead Zone in the Gulf could kill it over the course of just a few months. The Dead Zone is a large area of bacteria rich and oxygen depleted water south of the Mississippi river delta. It varies in size each year and is poorly understood. The currents usually push it to the east, but if the Zone gets too big it will kill the reef.

  3. pipenta says

    Coral everywhere is dying. I love the Bahamas like I love nowhere else on the planet, but even in remote locations removed from development that rarely see people, there are plenty of dead reefs. You see bleached coral, bleaching coral, dead coral and boneyards. Disease, temperature, I don’t even know what is doing it all. And now there are lionfish in the Bahamas. Indo-Pacific in origin, in the Bahamas they have no predators and they gobble up everything in sight, include the fish that normally eat the algae that can quickly cover the coral. It’s not good.

    The lionfish came from Florida, of course. Yep, y’all dump on Texas, but do take some time for Florida which is often like Texas only crazier, Texas with a key lime margarita and a loud print shirt. In Florida, you can probably get any kind of pet or plant you want. And if you don’t like it, you can just let it go and the giant invasive snakes in what used to be the Everglades will just eat it right up YUM and your cockapoo too.

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    Texas has pretty strict regulations when it comes to fish and aquatic plants. This is a result of the walking catfish and hydrilla crises of the 1970’s. But you can still get plecos and lionfish here, red pacu too. Lake Conroe is full of pacu, but they don’t seem to be spreading and the gators in the San Jacinto river love them. Many urban waterways in Houston have quite a few plecostomus. There is a ditch with a cofferdam flood chamber and a huge pipe that runs for about a mile about a few blocks from my house that is full of African ciclids. The concrete bottom of the flood chamber feels like the limestone of Lake Malawi to them.

    I’m pretty worried about the lionfish. They are still legal in Texas. The Gulf is a little rougher than they like, but if they could make it out to one of the oil rigs or artificial shipwreck reefs, they would do well there and ruin those reefs. The rigs and ship reefs are seeded with coral from the Caribbean, and it is hoped that if the Flower Gardens died, it would be restored with coral from the oil rigs.

    Oil rigs and abandoned oil rigs left in place to form coral reefs are popular fishing spots. If you’ve ever eaten an onaga, it was probably caught by a sport fisherman on the Gulf Coast at an oil rig.

    So sad about the reefs between Florida and the Bahamas. I sometimes worry what might happen if the Gulf Stream slows to a trickle because the Atlantic conveyer current stops flowing due to lowered salinity in the North Atlantic. Will the Sargasso Sea break up?

  5. mildlymagnificent says

    There’s one saving grace for the GBR. A significant portion of the loss is attributable to crown of thorns starfish. They used to come in large waves every 50-80 years. Now they’re there all the time with plague style population outbreaks every 15 years or so. The reef never gets the time to recover that it had in the past.

    They feed on algae which thrive in nutrient enriched waters and the young starfish themselves benefit from higher nutrients. So the moves to control farm runoff could be expanded and sped up to make things a bit less comfy.

    And I see an opportunity for university/ marine biologist controlled ecological tourism. People are willing to pay for holidays in inhospitable places to eradicate weeds, plant forests and the like. There’d be a good number of divers around the world as well as in Australia I’d have thought who’d happily sign on to a starfish eradication / reef maintenance team for a unique holiday experience. And the GBR is far from inhospitable.

  6. Ben P says

    Discover that the Crown of Thorns starfish is a rare delicacy that will balance your qi and watch them disappear at $100 an ounce.

    This is known as the Louisiana method of pest control. You invent a tasty recipe for a desired pest species and watch them vanish.

    I know several fishermen in northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri that make a half decent side income catching bighead carp and selling them to a local Vietnamese market.

    Unfortunately the same is true of Snakeheads, but that hasn’t stopped their proliferation in Florida.

  7. StevoR says

    Just in case you lucky duckies down under feel left out of the incredible shrinking Arctic ice cap adventure, you have an exquisite shrinking biome to call your own.

    Of course, we also get more even severe droughts, heatwaves, floods and increased bushfire risks from Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating too. Lucky us eh!

  8. Trebuchet says

    Half the Great Barrier Reef is gone

    I’ve been reading this headline for a whole day now and can no longer restrain my natural nit-pickery. Half the reef is not “gone”, it’s still a reef. It’s just dead. That’s a very bad thing, of course, but not the same as “gone”.


  9. StevoR says

    Aussie ABC’s Lateline show has this :


    report and this interview :


    with Federal environment minister Tony Burke on this reef loss death story. Transcripts and video there.

    @190. Trebuchet : Thing is the dead coral in the reef will erode away after a while won’t it? Especially with more severe and frequent storm surges from larger hurricanes and perhaps with higher sea levels too I’d expect.

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