The Great Barrier Reef Could Be Global Warming’s Latest Victim

Coral bleaching is killing the world’s most impressive reef. These stunning photos and facts reveal exactly what’s at stake.

Last week, a pretty distressing figure made waves — though probably not as many as it should have: 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s largest coral reef) is now in danger of dying. Here’s what’s at stake if one of the world’s most unique ecosystems collapses:

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turtle head

The oceans have been absorbing about a third of CO2 emissions from human activities, with about half of that released from the burning of fossil fuels. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Coral Colors

This amount of CO2 changes the pH levels of the waters, and results in ocean acidification. Photo: Kyle Taylor

great barrier reef bleaching clown fish

When the acid levels go up, coral can’t produce the calcium carbonate that helps maintain their exoskeletons — which means they could simply start dissolving as soon as the year 2100. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Red Coral

In 2005, the United States lost about half of its Caribbean coral reefs due to warmer water temperatures. Photo: Paul Toogood

Blue Clam

More than just coral are affected by ocean acidification; clams, snails, and urchins also need calcium carbonate to maintain their shells. Photo: Pixabay

Melon Butterflyfish

Coral bleaching, in turn, can cause a decrease in the amount of coral-dependent species, such as butterflyfish. Photo: Bernard E. Picton


Scientists point to this coral bleaching event as the result of a generally warming climate, on top of El Niño activity. Photo: Pixabay

white reef

There are approximately 400 species of coral living in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Purple Coral

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles (as big as 70 million football fields) along the northeastern coast of Australia, and is the Earth’s largest ecosystem. Photo: Paul Toogood

Blue Sea Star

Australia is, per capita, the largest contributor to harmful CO2 emissions in the world. Photo: Flickr

Striped Sturgeonfish

Though they’ve pledge to cut down on emissions, Australia continues to lend support to projects that rely heavily on fossil fuels. Photo: Toby Hudson

GBR Yellow Green

FlickrThe Great Barrier Reef provides Australia with over two million tourists per year. Photo: Kyle Taylor

coral varieties

These new findings will likely put Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the hot seat come the next federal election. Photo: Toby Hudson

Michaelmas Cay

Sediment and agricultural pollution runoff also pose threats to the overall health of the reef. Photo: James Demetrie

Cerulean Fish

The reef is home to over 1,500 different species of fish. Photo: Kyle Taylor

Anthias Shoal

In fact, about 10 percent of the world’s total fish species live just within the reef. Photo: Richard Ling

Swim Through Coral

The ancient layers of coral growing upon coral could date back almost 20 million years. Photo: Beyond Coal and Gas

School Fish Swim

The Great Barrier Reef is actually visible from space. Photo: Kyle Taylor

Fairy Basslets

Fairy Basslets feed on plankton that falls near the reefs. Photo: Beyond Coal and Gas

Hamilton Reef

Millions of people rely on the reefs to sustain the fish populations that make up a large part of their diet. Photo: Vanessa Smetkowski

Sea Anemones

In 2014, President Obama warned the Australian government that the reef was in danger. Photo: CameliaTWU

Fishy Stripes

Obama said he wanted the Great Barrier Reef to be there for his future grandchildren — but the situation has since escalated. Photo: Eulinky

Gold Coral

According to Professor Justin Marshall of the University of Queensland, “This is Australia’s biggest ever environmental disaster.” Photo: Kyle Taylor

Deep Blue

The fate of the reef has yet to be determined. Photo: Eulinky

Spiky Coral

However, the sight of pure white coral will become the new norm if ocean conditions continue to put stress on its inhabitants. Photo: Matt Kieffer

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