Time Running Out for Great Barrier Reef
A pair of Common reef cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) hovers above a patch of hard coral located on the Far Northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. With the ocean warming, rising, and becoming more acidic, coupled with land runoff, marine pollution and coastal development -- life in Australia's Great Barrier Reef is threatened from all sides and may be placed on the "in danger" designation for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Can Australia meet the challenge to do a better job of protection by 2014? Here's some photos of what's at risk.
Clownfish protect their eggs hidden in a sea anemone on the Great Barrier Reef.
The most-loved Heart Reef among the Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef is part of the protected off-limits areas to SCUBA divers and snorklers.
A flying gurnard (Dactyloptena orientalis), spreads out large pectorals to scare away enemies on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
The poisonous blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) stalks prey among the coral.
Jeffrey L. Rotman/Corbis
The size isn't intimidating, but the deadly poison is; divers wear gloves to hold the blue-ringed octopus.
A black-blotched moray eel at home in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.
The polyps on this stalk of Acropora echinata, a type of Staghorn coral, show vividly colored tips.
Many reefs around the world are threatened by bleaching, as sea temperatures become too warm and stress the corals. The high temperatures kill the colorful polyps, and leave a reef cemetery of coral skeletons.
Staghorn Coral release eggs and sperm in a mass spawning event on the Great Barrier Reef.
The head of a whale shark (Rhincodon typus), near Ningaloo Reef in West Australia - Indian Ocean. Whale sharks feed on the eggs and sperm released from coral during massive spawning events a few days after the full moon between October and December.
What goes in must come out. A sea cucumber (Thelnota ananas) leaves a trail of waste as it processes its food.
The head of an Ocellated Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum), in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Sea level rise poses a real threat to many parts of Australia. Already increased coastal erosion as a result of sea level rise is evident, as here where trees have been undercut and toppled by erosion on Green Island off Cairns in Queensland, Australia.
Time is running out for Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef, with climate change set to wreck irreversible damage by 2030 unless immediate action is taken, marine scientists said Thursday.
In a report prepared for this month's Earth Hour global climate change campaign, University of Queensland reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said the world heritage site was at a turning point.
"If we don't increase our commitment to solve the burgeoning stress from local and global sources, the reef will disappear," he wrote in the foreword to the report.
"This is not a hunch or alarmist rhetoric by green activists. It is the conclusion of the world's most qualified coral reef experts."
Hoegh-Guldberg said scientific consensus was that hikes in carbon dioxide and the average global temperature were "almost certain to destroy the coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef for hundreds if not thousands of years".
Explore the diverse array of life in one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.Stephen Frink/Corbis
"It is highly unlikely that coral reefs will survive more than a two degree increase in average global temperature relative to pre-industrial levels," he said.
"But if the current trajectory of carbon pollution levels continues unchecked, the world is on track for at least three degrees of warming. If we don't act now, the climate change damage caused to our Great Barrier Reef by 2030 will be irreversible."
The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, teems with marine life and will be the focus of Australia's Earth Hour -- a global campaign which encourages individuals and organizations to switch off their lights for one hour on April 29 for climate change.
The report comes as the reef, considered one of the most vulnerable places in the world to the impacts of climate change, is at risk of having its status downgraded by the UN cultural organization UNESCO to "world heritage in danger".
Despite threats of a downgrade without action on rampant coastal development and water quality, Australia in December approved a massive coal port expansion in the region and associated dumping of dredged waste within the marine park's boundaries.
The new report "Lights Out for the Reef', written by University of Queensland coral reef biologist Selina Ward, noted that reefs were vulnerable to several different effects of climate change; including rising sea temperatures and increased carbon dioxide in the ocean, which causes acidification.
It found the rapid pace of global warming and the slow pace of coral growth meant the reef was unlikely to evolve quickly enough to survive the level of climate change predicted in the next few decades.