Barrier Reef outlook poor despite coral 'recovery': scientists

Australian scientists have said the Great Barrier Reef's outlook remains 'very poor' despite signs of coral recovery. AFP/Sarah Lai

MELBOURNE - The Great Barrier Reef's outlook remains "very poor" despite coral recovery over the past year, Australian government scientists said, just days before a UNESCO ruling on the site's world heritage status.

The United Nations cultural agency recommended last month that the world's largest reef system be placed on its endangered list because of damage to the corals largely caused by climate change.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) said the corals were currently in a "recovery window" after a reprieve that followed a decade of harmful heat stress and cyclones.

READ: Australia to challenge UNESCO downgrade of Great Barrier Reef

But such opportunities were becoming rarer due to the impact of climate change, the government agency, which has monitored the reef for 35 years, said in its annual report released Monday. 

"The increasing prominence of climate-related extreme weather events and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks is causing more severe and frequent pressures, giving the reef fewer opportunities like this to recover," CEO Paul Hardisty said.

The scientists surveyed 127 reef sites in 2021 and found hard coral cover had increased at 69 of the 81 locations surveyed in the past two years, largely driven by fast-growing table and branching Acropora corals.

READ: Great Barrier Reef's corals in steep decline

Separate scientific research released last October found the 2,300-kilometre system had lost half its corals since 1995, with a series of ocean heatwaves causing mass coral bleaching.

Britta Schaffelke, research programme director at AIMS, said the latest findings provided a "glimmer of hope... that the reef still has resilience".

But she added that its "outlook into the future is still very poor because of the dangers of climate change and other factors that are impacting on the organisms that make up the reef."

Source
AFP

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