“Great Barrier Reef ‘could adapt to avoid climate doom” (1/11/2008) missed the bigger picture. While I agree that corals have a capacity to adapt to warming waters, it is my firm view that the rate of adaption will be too slow to prevent major loss of biodiversity at current levels and trends in greenhouse gas emissions.
Serious threat to the future of the Reef is not a distant theoretical possibility. The Great Barrier Reef has already had two near misses. Unprecedented, widespread coral death from bleaching occurred in 1998 and 2002. About 50 per cent of the Reef’s corals bleached over a very hot summer with most corals then recovering when peak temperatures eased (only five per cent died).
The Great Barrier Reef’s capacity to survive this mounting pressure is through building the Reef’s health and its ability to repair itself. Poor quality water not only contributes to the risk of bleaching it can also inhibit the corals ability to recover after a bleaching event. Australians are responding to this challenge. We are cleaning up our rivers that now carry excess fertiliser and pesticides; restoring coastal wetlands that not only catch excess silt from floods but provide nursery habitats for many species of fish; preventing pollution from sewage; preventing overfishing of top predators such as sharks and avoiding the accidental loss of iconic species such as dugong and turtle.
The UN report “Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable” captures the essence of this global problem. The strongest possible action on emissions reduction is needed on a global scale, and local action is needed to help maintain the Reef’s ability to withstand the inevitable and increasing pressure it faces each summer.
Chairman, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority