Coral Cover in the Great Barrier Reef Declining Rapidly

Written by on October 3, 2012 in Marine Life, Physical Oceanography

According to new research from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef has declined by more than half in less than three decades.

Crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Photo credit: David Burdick, NOAA.

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Photo credit: David Burdick, NOAA.

Over the last 27 years, corals have suffered from an increase in storms, bleaching events, and population explosions of the crown-of-thornsstarfish.  The researchers note that if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced and the crown-of-thorns starfish population is brought under control, the reef has the potential to recover.

Breakdown of the loss:

  • Tropical cyclones = 48%
  • Predation by crown-of-thorns = 42%
  • Bleaching = 10%

The study was based on over 2,000 surveys taken between 1985 and 2012 of 214 reefs.  The researchers found that two thirds of the total loss occurred since 1998, and the rate of disappearance is increasing.  The average rate during the 27-year period was 0.53 percent a year and now it is up to 1.45 percent.

Peter Doherty, a research fellow at AIMS explained, “If the trend continued, coral cover could halve again by 2022.”

The researchers wrote that without cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish, or bleaching, the Great Barrier Reef could regrow at a rate of 2.85 percent a year.

“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,” said John Gunn, CEO of AIMS.

Example of coral bleaching.

Example of coral bleaching. Photo credit: David Burdick, NOAA.

To learn more:

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 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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