By Ruby Prosser Scully Very poor prospectsPeter Adams Photography Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo The Great Barrier Reef’s long-term outlook has been dropped from “poor” to “very poor” in a new report that calls for urgent action on climate change and other threats to the natural wonder. Rising sea temperatures and marine heat waves are doing the most damage to the reef’s health, according to the report written by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Josh Thomas, the group’s CEO, called this a “critical” point in the reef’s history, saying its future depends on action taken now. Advertisement If nothing is done to stop the current rate of global warming, the reef will be irreparably damaged for future generations, the nearly 400-page document concludes. The finding comes from an analysis of data from scientific institutions, research centres, industry and government agencies – and is the culmination of two years of expert workshops. Havoc on the reef The report comes after back-to-back years of coral bleaching that have wreaked havoc on the coral reefs. Cyclones and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish – which eat coral – have damaged the reefs too. Such threats are intensifying, and widespread habitat loss and degradation are affecting fish, turtles and seabirds. Only around 60 per cent of the 31 ecosystem health markers assessed in the report were classed as good to very good, and the rest were in poor or very poor condition. Beside climate change, the reef is also suffering due to coastal development, direct human use, such as illegal fishing, and land-based run-off from agriculture. While water quality is improving in some areas, the report’s authors said progress was moving too slowly. The Queensland state government is considering controversial regulations to limit nutrient and sediment run-off from farms – amid reports that only one in ten sugarcane farmers properly manage pollution into reef catchment areas. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s third outlook report also provides some perspective on the reef’s trajectory. Read more: The Great Barrier Reef has died 5 times in the last 30,000 years “In 2009, the Reef was considered to be at a crossroads between a positive, well-managed future and a less certain one. In 2014, it was seen as an icon under pressure, with continued efforts needed to address key threats,” it said. Now, Australia is caring for a changed and less resilient reef, according to the report. Nevertheless, the report authors did not want the message to provoke fatalism. “It is important not to lose optimism by thinking the job is too big, or to think that a changed reef is far in the future – actions taken now will matter,” they wrote. More on these topics: environment coral marine biology
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