By Tierney Smith

The Great Barrier Reef is under siege from climate change and coal, with scientists confirming that 93 percent of the world heritage area is now suffering from severe coral bleaching.

A diver checking out the bleaching at Heron Island in February 2016. This area was one of the first to bleach at Heron Island which is located close to the southern most point of the Great Barrier Reef.
Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

The unprecedented event, caused by climate change warming the ocean, is being called “an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth." Only around 50 percent of the impacted corals are expected to survive, and in some areas, only a mere 10 percent may recover.

So heavy is the toll, 56 scientists have once again called on the Australian government to phase out coal, and are taking ever greater message to their warnings are heard. The expansion of Australian coal is already having dire impacts on the Reef, and will continue to drive the climate impacts that are killing Australia's famous heritage site.

Yet despite the government's willingness to pick up the phone about the parlous state of the reef, they seem unwilling to acknowledge that it's way past time Australia ditched coal.

Key Points:

  • This vital ecosystem can be saved, but it will take extraordinary effort. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's most diverse ocean habitats, it generates more than $5 billion in tourism revenues and employs nearly 70,000 people. Despite this, the Australian government has recently approved a massive new coal mine in Queensland that will threaten the reef and see the country's emissions skyrocket. Only an end to coal expansion and exports will allow Australia to adequately protect the Reef.
  • Governments must favor coral over fossil fuels. The world is in the midst of a global coral bleaching event on scale with the worst ever bleaching on record and scientists warn dire predictions made on coral decline could now be realized. As leaders look to re-affirm their commitment to tackling climate change, they can show they are serious about protecting this vital marine ecosystem by urgently moving towards a fossil free and 100 percent renewable future.

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