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Report: Decline of coral reefs accelerating

Friday, September 27, 2013, 9:17 PM -

The decline of the world's coral reefs appears to be accelerating according to new research, threatening to destroy large sections of marine life unless urgent action is taken.

Approximately half the worlds coral reefs have been lost over the last 30 years and that worrying trend will continue unless urgent action is taken, according to a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Scientists at the University of Queensland found that increases in ocean temperature and acidity not only is contributing to a reduction in calcification, the process by which corals build coral reefs, but also the rate at which coral reefs dissolve.

The findings come from a nine-month study that used computers to control carbon dioxide and the temperature of water flowing over small patches of coral reef. 

"We discovered that coral reefs under the business-as-usual-emission scenario, the one we are on, show high rates of decalcification," according to Associate Professor Sophie Dove from UQ's School of Biological Sciences. "Essentially, [the coral] is dissolving before our eyes over a few months."

Coral reefs are home to millions of unique marine species but they also provide wave protection to coastlines.

They are also vital to millions of people who rely on fishing for their livelihood. 

Most experts believe there still is time to save the coral but action must be taken immediately. 

Assessing the damage

The University of Queensland report and similar research around the world is driving a new project called the Catlin Global Reef Record.   

Using state of the art, high definition underwater cameras, researchers are taking panoramic photos of reefs to provide data for scientists around the world.

The pictures won't just capture stunning coral reefs, they will also help researchers monitor water temperatures and fish populations.

Results have already been posted online for the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean and Bermuda. 

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