Amid Bleaching Crisis, Coral Scientists Urge Australia To Protect Reefs

Jun 27, 2016

Before and after photos of coral reef bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Credit XL Catlin Global Reef Record

A week-long symposium on coral reefs wrapped up with a call to action. A letter sent to the Australian Prime Minister on Saturday urged the government to take steps toward curbing fossil fuel consumption. It was signed by the 2,500 attendees of the International Coral Reef Symposium…held in Honolulu. HPR’s Molly Solomon has more.

Back in March, James Cook University professor Terry Hughes got a bird’s eye view of coral bleaching damage on the Great Barrier Reef. He spent several days conducting an aerial survey that revealed the worst bleaching he’s ever seen. In the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, half of the corals he documented were dead.

"It's an absolute catastrophe," said Hughes, who is also the president of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

After seeing the damage to the world’s largest reef ecosystem, Hughes said, "I'm mad because we've been talking about climate change to the Australian government and other governments for 20 years — and it's time they listened. Some of us have been radicalized by seeing this incredible damage."

Hughes is one of more than 2,500 scientists who recently signed a letter urging the Australian Prime Minister to consider doing more to save the nation’s reefs and curb the country’s use of fossil fuels. Hughes warns that the world’s reefs are threatened with complete collapse under rapid climate change.

"Globally there's nowhere to hide from climate change," Hughes explained. "Even the best protected reefs, even the most remote reefs are vulnerable to climate change."

The letter goes on to say that damage to the northern Great Barrier Reef has been particularly devastating and points to the Australian government’s failure to protect it from port dredging and the shipping of fossil fuels across the reef. It also called on Australia’s Prime Minister to end coal exports and stop the approval of new coal mines. University of Queensland professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg echoed his colleague’s concerns, saying the time is now to act on global warming.

"If we don't get off that pathway," said Hoegh-Guldberg. "Coral reefs will continue to degrade to the point where we won't have anything to manage."