Climate change is responsible for half of the Great Barrier Reef being lost, study warns

The research looked at coral communities and the size of the colony between 1995 and 2017

Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been severely damaged over the years, as widespread bleaching caused by rising temperatures and climate change negatively impact the structure. Now, a new study has put a firm figure on just how much of the reef has been lost over the past 25 years.

A staggering 50%.

The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, looked at coral communities and the size of the colony between 1995 and 2017 and found that nearly all of the coral populations suffered depletions of various amounts.

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals in the past three decades. As more complex coral structure is lost, so too are the habitats for fish. CREDIT Andreas Dietzel.

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals in the past three decades. As more complex coral structure is lost, so too are the habitats for fish. CREDIT Andreas Dietzel.

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"We measured changes in colony sizes because population studies are important for understanding demography and the corals' capacity to breed," study lead Andy Dietzel said in a statement

"We found the number of small, medium and large corals on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by more than 50% since the 1990s," study co-author Terry Hughes added.

Two of the worst bleaching events took place recently, in 2016 and 2017, due in part to high temperatures, the researchers added.

In April, a separate group of researchers said the reef suffered its most widespread bleaching ever recorded.

In August 2019, the government agency that manages Australia's Great Barrier Reef downgraded its outlook for the corals' condition from "poor" to "very poor" due to warming oceans. 

Coral reefs, and in particular, the Great Barrier Reef, are home to a diverse number of species and are considered some of the most vibrant ecosystems anywhere on Earth. 

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Great Barrier Reef makes up about 10 percent of the world's coral reef ecosystems. It also has more than 1,500 species of fish and over 400 species of hard coral and contributes "more than $6.4 billion each year to the Australian economy and around 64,000 full-time jobs."

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"A vibrant coral population has millions of small, baby corals, as well as many large ones – the big mamas who produce most of the larvae," Dietzel added. "Our results show the ability of the Great Barrier Reef to recover – its resilience – is compromised compared to the past, because there are fewer babies, and fewer large breeding adults."

The research shows that the Great Barrier Reef's size is no longer able to protect it from the ravages of warmer ocean temperatures, the experts said.

"We used to think the Great Barrier Reef is protected by its sheer size – but our results show that even the world's largest and relatively well-protected reef system is increasingly compromised and in decline," Hughes said.

DYING CORAL REEFS COULD BE SAVED BY PLAYING SOUNDS OF HEALTHY CORAL REEFS FROM SPEAKERS

Skeptics have largely dismissed fears over man’s impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.

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