The donation by the jewellery giant will help fund the Great Barrier Reef Foundations Out of the Blue Box Innovation Challenge.
The donation by the jewellery giant will help fund the Great Barrier Reef Foundations Out of the Blue Box Innovation Challenge.

Disturbing Great Barrier Reef discovery

AUSTRALIA'S iconic Great Barrier Reef could be in more trouble than we thought.

New research carried out by scientists at the University of Queensland and the Australian Institute of Marine science (AIMS) indicates the Great Barrier Reed is getting worse at recovering from bleaching, poor water quality and ecological disturbances. The study published in ScienceAdvances claims that the reef is losing its ability to recover from bleaching events and infections, which has precipitated its destruction.

The Queensland researchers analysed data from 1992 to 2010 and found that the average rate of recovery across the Great Barrier Reef showed a six-fold decline during that time period.

"Corals of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) have declined over the past 30 years. While reef state depends on the balance between disturbance and recovery, most studies have focused on the effects of disturbance on reef decline," researchers wrote.

"We show that coral recovery rates across the GBR declined by an average of 84 per cent between 1992 and 2010."

Dr Juan Ortiz, lead author from AIMS and UQ's school of biological sciences, warned that the frequency of acute disturbances is predicted to increase, making protection and conservation efforts hugely important.

"This is the first time a decline in recovery rate of this magnitude has been identified in coral reefs," he told AAP.

"The decline is driven by a combination of the legacy effect of acute disturbances, which includes cyclones during that period.

"The future of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened without further local management to reduce chronic disturbances and support recovery, and strong global action to limit the effect of climate change," he added.

 

The average rate of recovery across the Great Barrier Reef showed a six-fold decline during the time period researchers looked at.
The average rate of recovery across the Great Barrier Reef showed a six-fold decline during the time period researchers looked at.

Professor Peter Mumby, of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said there was serious cause for concern but it was important to stress that not all reefs were failing.

"I believe there is scope for management to help remedy the situation," he said. "Our results indicate that coral recovery is sensitive to water quality and is suppressed for several years following powerful cyclones.

"Some reefs could improve their recovery ability if the quality of the water entering the reef is actively improved."

The latest findings deviate from a separate study earlier this year that found that the reef might be more resilient than we thought, surviving five so-called "death events" in the past 30,000 years.

That study, carried out by scientists led by researchers from the University of Sydney, used fossilised coral at the edge of the continental shelf to look back at the history of the reef and the environmental pressures it has faced like changes in sea level and temperature.

In the past, the reef has shifted along the sea floor to deal with changes in its environment, moving either seaward or landward depending on whether the level of the ocean was rising or falling, researchers found.

While the adaptability of the reef surprised researchers, they did warn that it has likely never faced an onslaught quite as severe as today with the rapid speed of ecological change.

- With AAP



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