Last updated July 19, 2018 at 11:49 am
But there is hope if we act now, scientists say.
The Great Barrier Reef is not bouncing back from disturbances like it used to, with average coral recovery rates declining sixfold in the 18 years up to 2010.
It’s the first time a decline of this magnitude has been identified in coral reefs, but scientists say better local management could turn things around.
A team from the University of Queensland’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reefs Studies (Coral CoE) and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) studied long-term monitoring data AIMS collected on more than 90 reefs across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
They say the decline has been driven by the legacy effect of acute disturbances such as coral bleaching, crown of thorns starfish outbreaks and cyclones, as well as the ongoing effect of chronic pressures like poor water quality and climate change.
Professor Peter Mumby from the Coral CoE says it’s a serious cause for concern, particularly given the accelerating impacts of climate change on reefs, but stresses that not all reefs are failing.
Coral recovery sensitive to water quality
“I believe there is scope for management to help remedy the situation,” he said. “Our results indicate that coral recovery is sensitive to water quality and is suppressed for several years following powerful cyclones.
“Some reefs could improve their recovery ability if the quality of the water entering the reef is actively improved.”
Lead author Dr Juan Ortiz, from the AIMS, says the frequency of acute disturbances was predicted to increase, making careful management the key.
“The future of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened without further local management to reduce chronic disturbances and support recovery, and strong global action to limit the effect of climate change.”
The paper published in Science Advances.