Great Barrier Reef said to face catastrophic damage (Update1)

Catastrophic damage to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive bank of coral and a magnet for skin divers, may be unavoidable if global warming continues unchecked, Australian officials said.

Concerned that their national treasure will become part of a wider destruction of the earth’s marine habitats, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said today that the government “urgently” needs to improve water quality near the reef and reduce run-off of nutrients and chemicals from farms that harm a reef that’s already being altered by a warmer ocean.

“The Great Barrier Reef is at increasing risk from climate change and an increase in water temperatures,” Bligh told journalists today in Brisbane, following a report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The bleaching of coral, higher temperatures as well as ocean acidification, triggered by industrial carbon dioxide dissolving in sea water, contribute to the destruction marine habitats globally. Reefs are worth about $30 billion a year to the global economy through tourism, fisheries and coastal protection, according to a United Nations-supervised study.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of Australia’s northeastern coast and is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. The shoal of coral is currently “healthy and well-managed,” Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said today.

Ed Johnson, Bloomberg, 2 September 2009. Full article.

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