The Great Barrier Reef – becoming not so great

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Bad news for the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s  most impressive dive sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to a study published on November 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, human expansion in Queensland caused a massive collapse of the coral life at the time, leading to a change in the type of coral on the reef.

For a millennium, the reef was dominated by Acropora coral, a large, fast-growing coral that provided a haven for a variety of aquatic life. As the European settlers began to spread, they cut down trees to make way for sugar plantations and sheep grazing. This led to large amounts of pesticide and fertiliser runoff, which poisoned the native Acropora, replacing it with the spindly, slow-growing Pavona, and feeding an algal bloom that choked out any Acropora that tried to grow back.

The Gardener underwater – sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

And if that’s not enough, scientists have discovered that the Reef has lost 50% of its coral in the last 27 years. The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong, found that the loss was due to storm damage (48%), Crown of Thorns starfish (42%) which feed on coral, and bleaching (10%).

Things look pretty bleak for the Reef. Aside from all these threats, there is increasing water temperature and increasing acidity, both, along with the bleaching, a result of climate change. So as a change of pace, here is someone who’s doing something a little different to help reefs: Jason deCaires Taylor, an artist who places his underwater sculptures near reefs, in order to encourage regrowth on the constantly changing statues, and to divert divers’ attention away from the natural reefs to allow them to regenerate. His website has a slideshow of fascinating images, as well as descriptions of his projects around the world.

[Featured image: Crown of Thorns starfish. Photo by Jon Hanson. LIicensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons license]

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