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The largest collection of coral reefs in the world stands to lose 90 percent of its living coral if ocean temperatures continue to rise, according to a new study from Australian and international scientists discussed in Science Daily.
The Great Barrier Reef is about the size of Japan, and stretches along much of the state of Queensland on Australia's northeastern side. The area is home to roughly 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 kinds of mollusk, according to UNESCO. A World Heritage site since 1981, the reef is under consideration to be added by the United Nations to its List of World Heritage in Danger.
The researchers examined the effects of a variety of environmental scenarios on the coral reefs using data from studies published between 1996 and 2006, according to an article in Science Daily. They concluded that pollution, overfishing and other coastal activity will leave the coral vulnerable to being overrun by seaweeds in the near future, and in the longer term will still likely disappear as ocean temperatures continue to rise, even if humans take short-term measures to protect the reefs.
Almost half of the world's reef-building corals have vanished and now only cover about 10 to 20 percent of the ocean floor. Once relatively pristine, the Great Barrier Reef has lost about half of its coral cover in the last 27 years alone.
The Great Barrier Reef is a huge tourist attraction and, like many coral reefs, acts as a natural protective barrier for coastal communities during storms.