Cli­mate find­ings ‘alarm­ing’

Coral over coal for the reef’s fu­ture

Whitsunday Times - - NEWS - Ge­or­gia Simp­son ge­or­gia.simp­son@ whit­sun­day­times.com.au

❝tran­si­tion We need to quickly from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy if our reef is go­ing to stand a chance.

ALARM­ING find­ings were re­vealed in an In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change re­port on global warm­ing re­leased ear­lier this month, ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal com­men­ta­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, green­house gas pol­lu­tion lev­els must reach zero in the next 30 years to stop global warm­ing at 1.5C.

Cur­rent rates sug­gest 1.5C would be breached by 2040, and 2C would be breached in 2060, the re­port said.

Stretch­ing 2300km down the north­east coast of Aus­tralia, the Great Bar­rier Reef is the largest reef in the world, and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures will cause ir­re­versible dam­age.

Ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Jacquie Sheils said hot weather with no wind and lots of sun was the en­emy.

“It’s when you have pro­longed pe­ri­ods of hot, calm weather that coral bleach­ing oc­curs,” she said.

“These ma­rine heat­waves are driven by hu­manin­duced cli­mate change.”

Ms Sheils said when the wa­ter was too warm, co­rals would ex­pel the al­gae liv­ing in their tis­sues. The al­gae sup­plied most of the coral’s food and gives it a brown colour so, they first be­come pale flu­o­res­cent colours.

With­out the al­gae to sup­ply food, they have no en­ergy to pro­duce pig­ments, and be­come to­tally white; they bleach, Ms Sheils said.

“The bleach­ing event that we saw in the sum­mer of 2016–17 saw 67 per cent of the coral killed in the north­ern parts of the Great Bar­rier Reef,” she said.

Al­though Cy­clone Deb­bie de­stroyed a lot of coral in the re­gion last March, the storm did cool the wa­ters in the Coral Sea, which may have pre­vented the mass bleach­ing event reach­ing here, Ms Sheils said.

“It takes about 10 years for reefs to re­cover from a ma­jor bleach­ing event: the re­turn time for bleach­ing events has de­creased from over 20 years in the 1980s to around six years now.

“So it is likely that reefs will bleach again be­fore they have fully re­cov­ered.”

A July 2017 re­port by Deloitte Ac­cess Eco­nom­ics es­ti­mated the Great Bar­rier Reef con­trib­uted $6.4 bil­lion/ year to the Aus­tralian econ­omy.

As well as top tourism dol­lars, the reef sup­ports 60,000 jobs in the re­gion.

Reef Ac­tion Whit­sun­day spokesman Tony Fontes, who has lived in the re­gion for 40 years, said changes he had ob­served on the reef due to cli­mate change in that time were “re­mark­able”.

“We need to tran­si­tion quickly from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy if our reef is go­ing to stand a chance,” he said. Whit­sun­day Re­gional Coun­cil man­ager for Health, En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Adam Folk­ers said the coun­cil took cli­mate change and its im­pacts se­ri­ously and had been im­ple­ment­ing re­new­able en­ergy projects through­out the re­gion.

“Coun­cil is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a Cli­mate Mit­i­ga­tion Strat­egy to re­duce green­house gas emis­sion fur­ther and is set to re­lease a Coastal Hazard Adap­ta­tion Strat­egy early in 2019 that will look to man­age the im­pacts of cli­mate change in our coastal ar­eas,” Cr Folk­ers said.

The coun­cil launched the Whit­sun­day Cli­mate Change In­no­va­tion Hub that aims to at­tract ex­perts to the re­gion to work on so­lu­tions to the im­pacts of cli­mate change.

— Tony Fontes

PHOTO: TE­GAN ANNETT

CORAL BLEACH­ING: Ex­perts warn that the af­fects of cli­mate change will be detri­men­tal to the reef.

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