Great Barrier Reef is worse off than originally thought; new study

The world’s largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef is in much more danger than scientists had originally thought, a new study has found.

RELATED: Great Barrier Reef bleaching threat at an all-time high

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” Terry Hughes, lead author of the paper on the reef (that is the cover article of the new journal “Nature”) told the New York Times.

Hughes is the director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and conducted this most recent study using aerial and underwater survey data, and then combining that with satellite-derived measurements of sea-surface temperature.

Rising sea surface temperatures due to climate change are unquestionably the culprit, as coral reefs are extremely sensitive to higher temperatures, which can cause heat stress and make itself known via bleaching.

The massive bleaching event in 2016 was one of three since 1998 and Professor Hughes told the NY Times that climate change is not a future threat, as it’s been killing the Great Barrier Reef for the last 18 years.

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Much of this is attributed to 2016 being the hottest year on record, as well as being an El Niño year. Add in the fact that the previous two years also beat the record for hottest year recorded, it’s no surprise that the Great Barrier Reef was exposed to its highest sea surface temperatures on record.

The results of this are a bit difficult to comprehend. Professor Hughes put it into perspective for the NY Times by revealing that only nine percent of the reef has avoided bleaching since 1998.

The paper calls for “immediate global action to curb future warming is essential to secure a future for coral reefs.”

As the NY Times points out, “Within a decade, certain kinds of branching and plate coral could be extinct, reef scientists say, along with a variety of small fish that rely on them for protection from predators.”

This could have major negative effects on a massive number of people in regards to tourism, economic opportunity and food supply.

If continued down this same path of global rising temperatures, not only would we be faced with the death of diverse organisms like the Great Barrier Reef and the ones that depend on it, but we’d also face humanitarian crises with food supply.