Climate: Is the Great Barrier Reef doomed?

New study projects staggering coral losses as oceans warm

Coral Gardens: A school of surgeonfish cruise coral reefs near Palmyra Atoll.

A school of surgeonfish cruise coral reefs in the Pacific. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice reporting on coral reefs

FRISCO —Even under a moderate climate change scenario, with just 1 to 2 degrees Celsius warming, the Great Barrier Reef may be doomed to become just a shadow of itself within a few decades, researcher said this week, warning of the cumulative impacts of warmer water, acidification, pollution and over-fishing.

In the short term, the combined effects of those impacts enable seaweed to over-run corals, in effect suffocating them. In the longer term, interactions among reef organisms would lead to dominance by other groups, including sponges and soft corals known as gorgonians. Continue reading

Scientists say half measures won’t help Great Barrier Reef

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Australian scientists say a government plan for the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t do enough to mitigate threats.

Global warming, coal port dredging seen as key threats

Staff Report

FRISCO — Leading Australian scientists said this week that the government’s business-as-usual plan for the Great Barrier Reef won’t prevent its decline.

While acknowledging a few positive steps in the plan, the Australian Academy of Scientists said the proposal “fails to effectively address any of the key pressures on the reef including climate change, poor water quality, coastal development and fishing.”

And, as is often the case with planning efforts in the U.S., the Australian government’s vision for the reef also doesn’t acknowledge the cumulative impacts that intensify pressure on one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems.

Continue reading

EPA takes small step toward addressing ocean acidification

A pteropod shell damaged by corrosive water. Photo courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

A pteropod shell damaged by corrosive water. Photo courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

Work group to discuss possible new water quality standards that would help assess acidification threats

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The EPA is taking a step toward tackling the issue of ocean acidification, which is leading toward a huge marine biodiversity catastrophe. The agency recently said it will task a panel of scientists to discuss a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity that requests new water quality standards to enable better detection and monitoring of acidification.

Some of the carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere is finding its way to the seas, where it’s changing the basic chemistry of the water and starting to have an impact on corals, shelfish and other marine organisms. One recent study showed exactly how ocean acidification is dissolving the shells of tiny sea snails in the Southern Ocean.

The federal government also has an interagency working group, with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies working on the issue. Continue reading

Widespread coral decline linked with onshore activities

Australian study shows how branching corals suddenly declined and failed to recover during Queensland settlement and development era

Acropora coral at French Frigate Shoals, northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Marine scientists have long been tracking the impacts of human activities to coral reefs, finding overfishing, logging and agricultural runoff all have negative effects. In a new Australian study, researchers linked a widespread coral collapse in the Great Barrier Reef with a  wave of settlement and development in Queensland.

Cores taken through the coral reef at Pelorus Island confirm a healthy community of branching Acropora corals flourished for centuries before European settlement of the area, despite frequent floods and cyclone events. Then, between 1920 and 1955, the branching Acropora failed to recover. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Great Barrier reef has lost half its coral cover

Outbreaks of the coral eating crown of thorns starfish have been responsible for 42 percent of the over 50 percent decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef between 1985 and 2012. Photo courtesy Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Multiple short-interval disturbances causing long-term decline, with southern areas hit hardest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Australian researchers say the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 27 years, with more impacts expected as the climate warms in coming decades. About half (46 percent) of the loss was from storm damage, with another 42 percent attributed to crown of thorns starfish and 10 percent lost to bleaching.

“We can’t stop the storms but, perhaps we can stop the starfish. If we can, then the reef will have more opportunity to adapt to the challenges of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, says John Gunn, CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville. Continue reading

Great Barrier reef at risk from energy development

Fracking near the Great Barrier Reef? Say it ain’t so …

Environmental groups sue to block financing plans by U.S. Export-Import Bank

By Summit Voice

Conservation activists are suing to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finance a natural gas operation near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The groups claim the plan violates the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, which implements U.S. obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

The legal challenge is an effort to bock nearly $3 billion in financing for two massive liquefied natural gas facilities that could threaten dugongs, sea turtles, saltwater crocodiles and numerous other protected marine species within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Continue reading

Volcanic pumice may have key role in coral reef ecosystems

Floating rafts of pumice attract all sorts of marine life as they float across the South Pacific.

New study suggests floating rafts of pumice could help replenish reefs

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Pumice from volcanic explosions may play a previously unknown role in the formation of coral reefs, according to researchers with the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

Dr. Scott Bryan, a geologist at the university, led a recent study of westward flowing rafts of pumice after volcanic eruptions in Tonga in 2001 and 2006, finding that plants and tiny animals — including corals — latched onto pumice as it was swept by ocean currents towards north eastern Australia.

“The pumice raft created after the 2006 Home Reef volcano erupted in Tonga initially formed at least a 440-square-kilometer floating mass,” Bryan said. “This mass slowly broke up into streaks and millions to billions of marine organisms such as cyanobacteria, barnacles, molluscs, corals, anemones, and crabs began hitching a ride.” Continue reading

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