International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns hears grim forecast
SCIENTISTS warn the Great Barrier Reef and the number of species that call it home will shrink as sea temperatures continue to rise in the losing battle against climate change.
Dr Janice Lough, senior principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the growth of calcium carbonate coral skeletons, which form the backbone of the Reef, have been stunted by rising sea temperatures.
"Climate change is not a future event, it’s happening already," she said at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns yesterday.
"We have found a recent slowing of the growing of these corals, Corals are just getting beyond their thermal tolerance level."
Surface tropical ocean temperatures have increased by half a degree over the past century and scientists predict they could be up to three degrees warmer by the end of this century.
Rising sea temperatures has resulted in widespread coral bleaching events and outbreaks of coral diseases, Dr Lough said.
Prof Philip Munday said some Reef species would respond better than others to warmer, more acidic oceans, but overall there would be a decline in fish numbers.
"The fish communities are going to change as the fish habitat changes," he said. "We don’t really know at this point which species are going to do really well and which species are going to do really poorly."
But University of Queensland Prof John Pandolfi said there was still a "window of opportunity" to slow the rate of climate change and reduce impacts, including habitat destruction and overfishing.
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Losing battle: Scientists predict the extent of the Great Barrier Reef and the marine life it supports will continue to decline as sea temperatures continue to rise due to climate change.