Eye of the Storm: Climate Change and the Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

One of Australia’s most spectacular natural wonders is being devastated by the impact of climate change.

Scientists, governments and the media have drawn attention to human induced mass coral bleaching and ocean acidification but have failed to highlight the threat of intense cyclones on the reef.

Healthy Reef (Source: Laura Kent)

A recent paper by researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville rectifies this lack of attention by investigating the threat of the more frequent category 5 cyclones on the Great Barrier Reef.

‘Increases in cyclone intensities alone will cause more pervasive losses of habitat forming corals and fishes, will reduce biodiversity and will increase the vulnerability of coral reef ecosystems to long term degradation’ writes Alistair Cheal the lead author of the paper.

Cyclones and the Reef

Cyclones cause severe, immediate damage to large sections of the Great Barrier Reef and are predicted to be more destructive in the future due to the warming of the oceans.

The new paper published in Global Change Biology investigates the impact intense cyclones Hamish and Yasi on coral cover, fish species richness and abundance and the recovery of the reef ecosystem.

Alistair Cheal states that the ‘resilience of coral reef ecosystems will be seriously threatened by increasing cyclone intensities’.

If the oceans continue to warm, then cyclones will become more destructive causing widespread damage to hard coral. This outcome would lead to a decline, and even extinction, of coral dependent fish species.

Why Should We Care?

The Great Barrier Reef is a unique Australian natural landmark of outstanding universal value that needs to be protected for future generations.

The reef is a vitally important ecosystem that supports a huge variety of endemic and endangered plant and animal species.

Damaged Reef (Source)

The reef protects the Queensland coast from experiencing the full destructive potential of powerful cyclones. It is also a fundamental resource for the Queensland tourism industry that makes a substantial contribution to the economy.

What Can We Do?

Cyclones will always occur and will always be a threat to the reef but we can minimise the damage by acting to slow climate change and preventing other disturbances from weakening the reef.

Scientists think the best way to save the reef is for governments to take immediate action against climate change.

We can help the reef by reducing pollution; contacting government representatives and demanding action to protect the reef and reduce carbon emissions; investing in renewable energy; widely promoting the significance of the reef and the threats to it from climate change.

We need to act now to save this incredible natural wonder before it is lost forever.

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