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article imageGreat Barrier Reef's outlook officially downgraded to 'very poor'

By Karen Graham     Aug 30, 2019 in Environment
Australia has downgraded the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef to "very poor" for the first time, highlighting a fierce battle between environmental campaigners and the government over the country's approach to the climate crisis.
Just two months after Australia approved the construction of a controversial coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a government agency, warned in a report released Friday that immediate local and global action was needed to save the world heritage site from further damage due to the escalating effects of climate change.
"The significant and large-scale impacts from record-breaking sea surface temperatures have resulted in coral reef habitat transitioning from poor to very poor condition. The window of opportunity to improve the Reef's long-term future is now. Strong and effective management actions are urgent at global, regional and local scales," the agency wrote in the report, which is updated every five years.
You could liken the Great Barrier Reef to the Amazon Rain Forest when we are talking about them as potent symbols of the damage brought about by man-made climate change.
The Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the east coast of Australia are known ...
The Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the east coast of Australia are known for their extraordinary natural beauty and marine life
Sarah Lai, AFP/File
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef extends south for 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) - from the northern tip of Queensland in north-eastern Australia to just north of Bundaberg. It varies from 60 to 250 kilometers in width. The reef was named a World Heritage site in 1981 for its "enormous scientific and intrinsic importance."
And like the Amazon Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef has an unique range of ecological communities, habitats, and species – all of which make the Reef one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.
Not only does the reef have the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, but it includes some 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays, and about 150 inshore mangrove islands. It's also home to over a thousand species of fish, and hundreds of other types of marine animals.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger from climate change  experts say
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger from climate change, experts say
SARAH LAI, SARAH LAI, AFP/File
Warming seas have played havoc on the living organisms that make up this complex ecosystem. "In 2009, the Reef was considered to be at a crossroads between a positive, well-managed future and a less certain one," the report reads. "In 2014, it was seen as an icon under pressure, with continued efforts needed to address key threats. Since then, the Region has further deteriorated and, in 2019, Australia is caring for a changed and less resilient Reef."
In 2016 and 2017, there were "mass bleaching events" that wiped out coral and destroyed marine animal habitats. "Threats to the reef are multiple, cumulative and increasing," the report says. "The window of opportunity to improve the Reef's long-term future is now."
Can the Reef be saved?
Imogen Zethoven, the director of strategy for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: "We can turn this around, but only if the prime minister cares enough to lead a government that wants to save it. And saving it means being a leader here and internationally to bring greenhouse gas emissions down."
Giant clams  as seen in this 2014 file photo from Australia's Great Barrier Reef  are listed as...
Giant clams, as seen in this 2014 file photo from Australia's Great Barrier Reef, are listed as an endangered species and protected under Thai law
WILLIAM WEST, AFP/File
Greenhouse gas emissions have risen every year in Australia since 2015 - when Australia became the first major country to ax a national carbon tax. However, despite the report, the Australian government continues to claim it is taking action to reduce emissions and meet its 2030 commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
Meanwhile, the government continues to criticized climate activists who claim the reef is dying. To prove the reef is alive and well, Sussan Ley, Australia's environment minister visited the reef, according to Inside Climate News.
"A fortnight ago I was on the reef, not with climate skeptics but with scientists," Sussan Ley, Australia's environment minister, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. "Their advice was clear: the Reef isn't dead. It has vast areas of vibrant coral and teeming sea life, just as it has areas that have been damaged by coral bleaching, illegal fishing, and crown of thorns [starfish] outbreaks."
All in all, the report is very grim and written in very concise, plain language. "But, overall, it's not looking too good. At this point, saving the reef would require the mitigation of climate change," the report says.
More about Great barrier reef, very poor condition, Climate crisis, Emissions, Carbon tax
 
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