The Great Barrier Reef is Changing

Written by on September 27, 2012 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law

Using satellite measurements of sea surface temperatures over the last 25 years, scientists have found clear evidence of serious changes taking place at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia.

Satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL.

Satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL.

“When we looked back at satellite data collected since 1985, we found evidence that most of the regions of the GBR are changing significantly, in terms of sea surface temperature–especially in the southern part of the reef,” explained Dr. Natalie Ban of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“Risk of coral bleaching increases with higher water temperatures.  Across the whole reef we found water temperatures increasing by an average of 0.2 of a degree over a quarter of a century–but the increase was significantly more in some areas,” she said.

Dr. Ban explained that scientists, conservationists and many others disagree about how important areas like the Great Barrier Reef should be protected.  Some believe that protection should be focused on areas that aren’t changing, so they may act as a refuge for surrounding areas.  Others believe that the highest levels of protection should be granted to the most vulnerable areas.  Some argue that the boundaries of protected areas should migrate along with climate change.

“Our aim in publishing this paper on what is actually happening is to stimulate and inform this discussion, so that we can come up with the best and most flexible system for managing the GBR through what will undoubtedly be momentous environmental change,” said Dr. Ban.

A healthy coral reef. Photo credit: NOAA/CCMA Biogeography Team.

A healthy coral reef. Photo credit: NOAA/CCMA Biogeography Team.

To learn more:
Read the full press release form Coral Reef Studies: Climate is changing the Great Barrier Reef (link no longer active)
Find the full paper published in the journal Conservation Biology, here: Conservation Objectives and Sea-Surface Temperature Anomalies in the Great Barrier Reef

A Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish (Chaetodon ulietensis) found in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Phoro credit: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR.

A Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish (Chaetodon ulietensis) found in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Phoro credit: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR.

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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