March 24, 2010

Australian Reef Threatened By Climate Change

Warming seas due to climate change have bleached large parts of the southernmost coral reef in the world, putting the reef on the edge of destruction, an Australian scientist warned on Wednesday.

Peter Harrison has been monitoring the reef off Lord Howe Island since 1993, and said a rise in sea temperature of 4 degrees Fahrenheit had drained much of the reef of its striking colors.

"We're hoping the vast majority of these corals will be able to recover, but at the moment this whole system is on a knife-edge and we don't know what's going to happen," Harrison told AFP.

The reef, located 370 miles east of Sydney, has been affected by warmer waters that traveled down from tropical seas around Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Harrison said climate change is the blame for the devastating effect the warmer waters are having on the reef. And the reef could face "an even more sever event" in the future.

Harrison added that its fairly predictable what's going to happen when you have warming seas. "This is a warning of likely future increases of stress on this world's southernmost reef."

If the seas return to normal temperatures soon, the reef will survive, but it could take decades for the reef to recover from the extreme bleaching, Harrison said.

Other marine life in the area are also being affected by the warmer waters, including a particular type of anemone which provides shelter for a rare fish species.

Reefs undergo bleaching when the overheated corals expel algae that is crucial to giving them their distinct colors.

Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons