A bleak new study describes the profound damage that climate change has wreaked on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Rising temperatures in 2016 “cooked” swathes of corals, the scientists found, causing the catastrophic die-off of almost 30 percent of the world’s largest coral reef system.
Global warming has already radically — and possibly permanently — transformed the reef’s ecology, according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature. If action is not taken promptly and comprehensively to curb warming, it could be “game over” for the reef, scientists warned.
“It’s catastrophic,” Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a New South Wales-based climate researcher who was not involved in the new study, told Australia’s ABC News after reviewing the research. “There might have been a glimmer of hope that it wasn’t as bad or might recover faster than we thought. But this paper made the reality very present. The bleaching will forever change the Barrier Reef.”
The extent of the coral die-offs in 2016 — and another severe bleaching event in 2017 — had already been known to scientists, but the new research chronicled specifically how rising temperatures had affected different reef species and the reef’s ecological health at large.
The study’s authors said they were alarmed by their findings.