The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report was dominated by climate change and environmental disasters, and the world has recently watched this play out across the globe, from cyclones battering Mozambique to extreme flooding in the US Midwest. Heat waves have been hotter, droughts have been dryer and storm surges have been higher. Temperature records have been repeatedly smashed across the planet.
Queensland, home to the Great Barrier Reef, has seen bushfires, extreme heatwaves, a tropical cyclone, record rainfall and extreme flooding in the last nine months alone.
Yet climate experts believe that all this is just the precursor to something far worse. According to a 2018 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activities have currently caused around 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. At this level, coral reefs have been hit hard by heat stress and have experienced large-scale mortalities.
“In the last three years alone (2016–2018), large coral reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) have lost as much as 50% of their shallow water corals,” the IPCC study reports.
But if global warming rises by an additional degree (to 2°C above pre-industrial levels), the study says, there will be unprecedented consequences: 99% of coral reefs across the world’s tropical and sub-tropical oceans will disappear. And even if countries around the world adhere to the Paris Agreement (to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels), the world will still lose 70–90% of reef-building corals compared to today.
These are sobering statistics, which hit home even harder when you see the evidence for yourself.
Dive in the northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef, north of Townsville, and you may be greeted by ghostly swathes of pure white staghorn coral, likely bleached in one of the back-to-back bleaching events caused by rising sea temperatures in 2016 and 2017.
Elsewhere you might see thick clusters of purplish-blue or reddish-grey crown-of-thorns starfish, covered in venomous barbs. These starfish occur naturally in low numbers on the Great Barrier and other coral reefs, and play a part in the reef ecosystem by helping to maintain coral species diversity. However, recent years have seen an explosion in their numbers, likely caused by overfishing of their natural predators or increased nutrients in the water due to agricultural runoff into the ocean.
When outbreaks occur, crown-of-thorns starfish are no longer just feeding on the coral, but stripping entire reefs bare.
Read more of this article, it again shows how the environment is changing, whether it be through our intervention or not, the facts are the planet is warming and we need to start to think of creative ways to protect the wonders of our planet. Click here to read more from BBC Travel