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Australia’s Barrier Reef outlook poor despite coral ‘recovery’: Scientists

A diver examines the bleaching of a coral reef on Orpheus Island in Australia.
Image Credit: AFP

Brisbane: Prospects for the Great Barrier Reef remain “very poor” despite last year’s coral recovery, Australian government scientists said Monday, just days before UNESCO’s decision to declare the site a World Heritage Site.

Last month, the United Nations cultural agency recommended listing the world’s largest reef system as endangered due to coral damage, mainly due to climate change.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) reported that corals are currently in a “recovery period” after a respite following a decade of harmful heat stress and cyclones.

But such opportunities have become increasingly rare due to the impact of climate change, according to an annual report released Monday by a government agency that has been monitoring the reef for 35 years.

“The growing importance of climate-related extreme weather events and the crown of thorns starfish outbreaks is causing more severe and frequent pressures, giving the reef less room to recover than this one,” said CEO Paul Hardisty.

Scientists surveyed 127 reef sites in 2021 and found that hard coral cover has increased in 69 of 81 sites surveyed over the past two years, mainly due to the fast-growing table and branching Acropora corals.

A separate scientific study published last October found that the 2,300-kilometer system has lost half of its corals since 1995, when a series of ocean heatwaves caused massive coral bleaching.

Britta Schaffelke, director of the AIMS research program, said the latest results provide “a glimmer of hope … that the reef is still resilient.”

But she added that its “prospects for the future are still very poor due to the dangers of climate change and other factors that affect the organisms that make up the reef.”

Lobbying efforts

Australia made last-minute lobbying efforts to avoid downgrading the status of a World Heritage Site, sending the country’s Environment Minister to Paris to meet with UNESCO officials and even inviting key ambassadors on a reef snorkeling trip last week.

UNESCO has called on Australia to take urgent action to tackle climate change, but Canberra has long resisted calls for zero emissions by 2050.

The Conservative government said it hopes to achieve the goal “as soon as possible” without harming its resource-based economy, insisting that a global effort is required to tackle climate change.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the reef was generating $ 4.8 billion a year in tourism revenue for the Australian economy, and there are fears that listing as “at risk” could weaken its tourist appeal.

The decision is expected around 23 July.

The Great Barrier Reef, listed as a World Heritage Site in 1981, is one of seven sites in the world that are threatened with degradation due to environmental damage, over-development, over-tourism or safety concerns.

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