50% of coral has disappeared from The Great Barrier Reef in the last 27 years02/10/2012 07:57:00 Controlling crown of thorns starfish outbreaks will help save the reef
October 2012. The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the last 27 years. The loss was due to storm damage (48%), crown of thorns starfish (42%), and bleaching (10%) according to a new study published by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.
Stop the starfish
"This finding is based on the most comprehensive reef monitoring program in the world. The program started broad scale surveillance of more than 100 reefs in 1985 and from 1993 it has incorporated more detailed annual surveys of 47 reefs," says one of the program's original creators, Dr Peter Doherty, Research Fellow at AIMS.
Southern Reef has suffered much more
Tropical cyclones have been devastating
Recovery takes 10-20 years
"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," says AIMS CEO, John Gunn. "However, we can act to reduce the impact of crown of thorns," he says. "The study shows that in the absence of crown of thorns, coral cover would increase at 0.89% per year, so even with losses due to cyclones and bleaching there should be slow recovery.
"We at AIMS will be redoubling our efforts to understand the life cycle of crown of thorns so we can better predict and reduce the periodic population explosions of crown of thorns. It's already clear that one important factor is water quality, and we plan to explore options for more direct intervention on this native pest."
The analysis presented in the paper was conducted with partial support from the Australian Government's National Environmental Research Program.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.