September 2, 2009

Great Barrier Reef Under Threat Of Extinction

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger of being ruined by climate change and coastal development, according to a report on Wednesday.

According to the inaugural reef report issued by the Marine Park Authority, the reef has been hit by two different cycles of coral bleaching, and now algae and species infestation is becoming a serious problem that may threaten the reef's existence.

"While populations of almost all marine species are intact and there are no records of extinctions, some ecologically important species, such as dugongs, marine turtles, seabirds, black teatfish and some sharks, have declined significantly," the authority wrote.

"Almost all the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef will be affected by climate change, with coral reef habitats the most vulnerable," researchers wrote.

"Coral bleaching resulting from increasing sea temperature and lower rates of calcification in skeleton-building organisms such as corals because of ocean acidification, are the effects of most concern and are already evident."

The report said that runoff of nitrogen-based pesticides from nearby farms could pose a serious threat to the reef's wellbeing, although the extent of the damage is "largely unknown."

The reef is a World Heritage-protected site that spans more than 133,000 sq miles off Australia's east coast.

Scientists from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have previously speculated that the Great Barrier Reef could be "functionally extinct" within decades.

According to Reuters, the Australian Institute of Marine Science issued a separate report on Wednesday that found ocean temperatures on northern parts of the reef to be a degree above average through winter.

"We know that a failure to act on dangerous climate change puts at risk significant places like the Great Barrier Reef and this report confirms the scale of the challenge ahead," Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett said.

"We cannot sit back and let the world's largest and most iconic reef system die on our watch," said WWF reef campaigner Nick Heath.


Image Caption: Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Queensland coastal areas of Proserpine and Mackay. (NASA)


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