We still have a chance to save the Great Barrier Reef

In the 1980s, a bleaching event such as the one that affected 93 per cent of individual reefs of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 would have been beyond imagining.

But three decades later, the median time between global bleaching events has shrunk from about 27 years to just six, drastically reducing the time for reefs to recover.

Just two years ago, travelling with the Climate Council, I witnessed the damage caused by the worst recorded bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef.

This event was driven by extreme ocean temperatures and has since led to the mortality of almost one third of its corals.

The extent of the damage in 2016 is still being assessed.

On top of the mass coral mortality, there has been declines in fish populations and diversity, and the loss of vital reef nursery sites.

With rising ocean temperatures driving more frequent and longer-lasting marine heatwaves, further bleaching events are almost assured.

It is more important than ever that we look to the readily available solutions to protect not only the Great Barrier Reef, but coral reefs around the globe.

We have the means to address the climate change challenge – by continuing the transition from ageing, polluting and inefficient fossil fuels to clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and storage technologies.

Action now is critical if we are to save what’s left of our most precious natural icon.

The potential loss of the Reef is not just an environmental problem.

It injects about $6.4 billion into the economy each year and provides 64,000 jobs, many in regional Queensland.

If emissions keep rising, catastrophic bleaching will become commonplace, until there is nothing left to bleach.

Climate change is not a mystery.

We know what’s causing it, and we have the solutions at hand.

Do we really want to be known as the generation of Australians who had a chance to save the Reef, but didn’t?

Professor Lesley Hughes is a ​Climate Councillor and ecologist.

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