The Great Barrier Reef could be dead in 20 years unless there is a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a marine biology expert said today.

Rising sea temperatures were bleaching the coral and causing it to die, said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

At the same time, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were turning the world's oceans more acidic and preventing corals from forming their limestone skeletons, he said.

Prof Hoegh-Guldberg and Professor Terry Hughes provided expert advice to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC report was due for release today, but has been delayed due to objections from China, the US and Saudi Arabia.

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