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Great Barrier Reef loses half its coral in less than 30 years
The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in the last 27 years, according to a new study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Based on over 2,000 surveys from 1985 to this year the study links the alarming loss to three impacts: tropical cyclone damage, outbreaks crown-of-thorns starfish that devour corals, and coral bleaching.
"We can't stop the storms, and ocean warming (the primary cause of coral bleaching) is one of the critical impacts of the global climate change. However, we can act to reduce the impact of crown of thorns," says John Gunn, the head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), which conducted the research.
Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci), the world's second largest seastar and a renowned predator of coral, have seen several outbreaks in the Great Barrier Reef during the past few decades. Outbreaks of the coral-chomping invertebrates are believed to have increased from one every 50-80 years to one every 15 years, which scientists have linked in part to fertilizer and chemical runoff from the mainland.
In total, the researchers found that 42 percent of coral loss could be linked the crown-of-thorns outbreaks, 48 percent to tropical cyclones, and 10 percent to coral bleaching. The annual loss of coral cover has sped up as well, averaging 1.45 percent annually since 2006.
This pummeling, occurring too quickly for many reefs to recover, currently leaves the Great Barrier Reef with a total coral cover of less than 14 percent, down from 28 percent in 1985. The findings are similar to declines seen in other coral reefs worldwide, such as coral cover in the Caribbean which has fallen from 55 percent in 1977 to just 10 percent today. However, the Great Barrier Reef has long been seen as a rare bright spot in coral conservation.
In order to buy the Great Barrier Reef time, the researchers recommend "direct action" to mitigate pollution and remove crown-of-thorns starfish.
"The study shows that in the absence of crown-of horns, coral cover would increase at 0.89 percent per year, so even with losses due to cyclones and bleaching there should be slow recovery," Gunn says.

1. The Great Barrier Reef has lost nearly half its coral over the years. There are three main reasons the coral is decreasing: coral bleaching, tropical cyclone damage, and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. The cause that has the greatest impact among all three are the outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish. These starfish devour the corals and there have been several outbreaks in the Great Barrier Reef. 2. I think that the recommendation of the “direction action” was a brilliant idea. However, I think that they should have acted on this a lot sooner; that way, we wouldn’t have to wait so long for the Great Barrier Reef to recover. If the problem was taken care of earlier, then the coral wouldn’t have had nearly as much damage as it does today. 3. The article should have included more about coral bleaching and cyclone damage. It would have been great to know how they affect the coral, and how much they affect the coral. With the crowns-of-thorns starfish gone, they said that those two impacts would be the only thing left to worry about. They said that even with just those two damaging the coral, it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it would be with the starfish outbreaks still there. The article should have included what they can do about the remaining problems so that they can speed up the recovery process. 4. When I was younger, my auntie and I used to collect shells at our private beach in Urunao. As we would walk on the sand looking for new things to collect, I noticed that she would always get mad at me when I would attempt to take some coral with me. I didn’t see anything wrong with it, so I would end up just taking it home without her knowing. She would eventually find out and bring me back to the beach just to throw it back in the ocean. It wasn’t until I got older that she told me she would get mad because it was illegal to take coral and because we are taking away homes for the fish. When she told me that, I went with my dad to the beach the next day to return all the other coral I had hidden from her.

Citation:
Hance, Jeremy. "Great Barrier Reef Loses Half Its Coral in Less than 30 Years." Mongabay.com. Jeremy Hance, 01 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Sept. 2013. <http://news.mongabay.com/2012/1001-hance-greatbarrierreef-halved.html>.

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