Half of the coral of the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast has died off since the 1990s, researchers say in a study published Wednesday. The deaths occurred among almost all coral species in the largest coral reef in the world.
The amount of small, medium and large coral in both deep and shallow water decreased by more than 50 percent between 1996 and 2017, the Australian coral researchers said. The mortality is especially high in parts that suffered from the high temperatures that caused massive coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017.
The most extinct coral species are important to the habitat of other reef life, including fish. The fish populations and fisheries operating in the area are therefore suffering from coral mortality, the researchers said.
According to one of the authors, the reef cannot recover as well as it used to be because there are fewer large corals left that can provide new coral. “A vibrant coral population consists of millions of small baby corals and many large ones – the large mothers that produce the most larvae,” said co-author Terry Hughes.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef and home to many endangered species such as the green sea turtle and the Indian manatee. Scientists blame coral death on climate change. According to them, this causes an increase in the number of disturbances in the ecosystem, mainly in the form of heating of the sea water.
“There is no time to waste,” warn the authors. “We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.”
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