Great Barrier Reef will be gone in 20 years, says Charlie Veron

The Great Barrier Reef will be so degraded by warming waters that it will be unrecognisable within 20 years, an eminent marine scientist has said.

Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told The Times: “There is no way out, no loopholes. The Great Barrier Reef will be over within 20 years or so.”

Once carbon dioxide had hit the levels predicted for between 2030 and 2060, all coral reefs were doomed to extinction, he said. “They would be the world’s first global ecosystem to collapse. I have the backing of every coral reef scientist, every research organisation. I’ve spoken to them all. This is critical. This is reality.”



Dr Veron’s comments came as the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Society and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) held a crucial meeting on the future of coral reefs in London yesterday. In a joint statement they warned that by mid-century extinctions of coral reefs around the world would be inevitable.

Warming water causes coral polyps to eject the symbiotic algae that provide them with nutrients. These “bleaching events” were widespread during the El Niño of 1997-98, and localised occurrences are becoming more frequent. (During an El Niño, much of the tropical Pacific becomes unusually warm.) Reefs take decades to recover but by 2030 to 2050, depending on emissions and feedback effects, bleaching will be occurring annually or biannually.

Although surface sea temperatures are rising fastest in tropical regions the other big threat to coral reefs comes from the higher latitudes. The cold water there absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide more readily than warm water and acidifies more easily.

When carbon dioxide concentrations reach between 480 and 500 parts per million warm water is no barrier to acidification, and the pH in equatorial regions will have dropped so far, meaning higher acidity, that coral reef growth becomes impossible anywhere in the ocean.

Frank Pope, The Times, 7 July 2009. Full article.


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