Australia Must Adopt Kyoto Protocol to Save Reef, MSN, 12/13/06
The Australian government must act quickly to address global warming in order to protect the Great Barrier Reef, a leading coral scientist says.
Associate Professor John Pandolfi, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the University of Queensland, says large-scale coral die-offs around the world are occurring more frequently than at any time in the past 11,000 years.
Prof Pandolfi and a team of scientists travelled to Papua New Guinea and studied fossilised reefs to determine how often they were hit by major disasters.
The team found that over the 6,000 years recorded in the fossil strata, the reef had been devastated only four times - once every 1,500 years.
The finding sounded a warning bell for modern reef management practices, Prof Pandolfi said.
"Even if there had been one every 100 years it would have been in stark contrast to what we're seeing today, where we get several of these events per decade in some places around the world," he said.
Prof Pandolfi said the three major factors threatening reefs were over-harvesting of marine resources, pollution from coastal development and global warming.
He said the government already had taken some positive steps towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef, but global warming could still cause widespread destruction.
"If we're going to talk seriously about coral bleaching, then we have to talk seriously about reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Prof Pandolfi said.
"I think doing things like signing the Kyoto Protocol is very important ... we really need the commitment if we're going to keep down the greenhouse gases."
Australia has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which sets targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Prof Pandolfi said the reef could be dead before the end of the century unless the government acted immediately.
"I think they are realising the fact the Great Barrier Reef alone generates $6 billion a year in tourism, and that's quite a substantial economic shot in the arm to both Queensland and to the whole country," he said.
"The long-term problem, of course, is global warming and I think in 40 or 50 years if we haven't done anything to moderate that, we're going to find that coral bleaching has just wiped out a lot of the reefs around the world, and that includes the Great Barrier Reef, unfortunately."