Race against time to save Great Barrier Reef
AUSTRALIA has just 20 years to save the Great Barrier Reef from significant damage by ocean acidification, one of the nation's foremost authorities on marine science has warned.
In Cairns yesterday, Dr Charlie Veron, the former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the threat of ocean acidification was not being taken seriously.
Dr Veron, who is regarded as the "grandfather" of coral reef science in Australia, having discovered 20 per cent of the world’s corals, predicted the Great Barrier Reef would suffer severe damage as a result of the process within the next 20 years.
"Around about 2030, carbon dioxide levels will have reached a point where ocean warming will be killing off most shallow water corals,’’ he said.
"You don't have to be a scientist to understand that. You just have to look at what's happened over the past 30 years.’’
The financial cost to Australia of failing to take action against acidified oceans may be worse than both world wars combined, he claimed.
Ocean acidification is a change in the chemistry of seawater that happens when too much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is dissolved in the ocean.
The change affects the ability of animals such as corals to build skeletons from materials in the water.
Last year, Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers found the biggest corals on the Reef had slowed their growth by more than 14 per cent since 1990.
If carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were not reduced, the consequences would be disastrous for the environment, Dr Veron said.
"If the acidification goes on, the path is very clear from ocean chemistry, that we will generate the world’s sixth great mass extinction," he said.
"That's when the oceans shut down and life goes into a massive collapse.’’
Oceanic acidity has decreased from about 8.2 to 8.1 units since the start of the industrial revolution.
Scientists have projected this would drop by a further 0.3 units by the end of the century, well out of the range corals need to build their skeletons.
The solution to stopping corals from declining further was simple, Dr Veron said.
"The most damaging sources of generation are from electricity generation, coal and transport.
"We have the technology now to really curb those sources of production.
"The technology already exists. We just need the will to do it."
At the very least, there should be more discussion about the threat of ocean acidification, which is regarded as a relatively new threat to the world’s oceans, he said.
"There is nothing like the level of debate about ocean acidification that there has been about climate change,’’ Dr Veron said.
"Climate change is very multifaceted and you can argue about this and that.
"But ocean acidification is very simple: it's about chemistry and it's about the response of living things to a changing chemistry."
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Countdown to extinction: Australia has just 20 years to save the Great Barrier Reef from significant damage, one of the nation's foremost authorities on marine science has warned.
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