Only 20 years left of Australia's Great Barrier Reef ?

By Cher Thornhill

A recent report by marine scientist Charlie Veron claimed that global warming will destroy the World Heritage site within just 20 years.

The former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science says that CO2 levels have risen so much it is now impossible to save the natural structure.

'There is no way out, no loopholes,' he said. 'The Great Barrier Reef will be over within 20 years or so.'

And the marine expert is not alone in his gloomy predictions - nor the most extreme.

Sir David Attenborough warned at a meeting of wildlife experts in July that all of the world’s tropical reefs face ‘imminent destruction’ unless CO2 levels are slashed.

Hopes that cutting emissions will be enough to save our natural world have been dashed by marine experts. They say we must now find ways to remove gas already in the atmosphere.

As well as their exceptional beauty, coral reefs are one of the richest eco-systems in the sea, providing homes to over a million species.

Their abundant life is a valuable source of food for millions of people and provides thousands of jobs by supporting a huge tourism industry.

But the precious structures, built by a battery of tiny organisms called corals polyps, are especially vulnerable to man’s impact on the environment.

Slow increments in levels of CO2 are gradually making the oceans more acidic and dissolving coral in the process.

And temperature rises caused by the same emissions are bleaching the coral, as the beauty fades.

Sir David, who chaired the meeting at the Royal Society in early July, said: 'Coral reef is the canary in the cage as far as the oceans of the world are concerned.

'They are the places where the damage is most easily and perhaps most quickly seen.

'Anybody who has had the privilege of diving along a coral reef will have seen the natural world at its most glorious and its most diverse and most beautiful.

‘Anybody who has done that would be appalled at the thought… that the reefs should die and be covered with brown slime and turn to a gravel pit.'

Up to 20 per cent of the World’s coral has been lost since the 1980s.

Experts believe CO2 levels have risen from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to 387ppm today.

The scientists who attended the Royal Society meeting agreed that levels must be capped well below 350ppm to ensure coral reefs survive in the long term.

The spectacular structure, which is so vast they can be seen from outer space, has been shortlisted for an online contest to select the seven natural wonders of the world.

An expert panel nominated 28 sites - including the Amazon rainforest, the Dead Sea and Grand Canyon - as contenders for the crown.


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