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It's Too Late For The Great Barrier Reef, It Can't Recover

The future of the Great Barrier Reef is now unclear.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from profound bleaching events caused by global warming in the past two decades, with the 2016 bleaching estimated to have killed 93 percent of the northern section of the reef.

A 2017 bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef compounded the problem and by the end of last year, it was reported that 50 percent of the reef was now dead.

The new study from Australian researchers published in Nature has now found for the first time that coral reefs are unable to effectively recover from these events. Coral larvae is unable to establish itself after large portions of the reef died and the authors of the paper stated that the future of the Great Barrier Reef is now unclear.

Professor Andrew Baird, one of the authors of the paper and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told 10 Daily that up until this point, research has only focused on the death of adult corals.

"The reef is still growing...but if they don't have a chance to reproduce or there's another bleaching event in the next couple of years, it's getting close to not being able to do anything about it," Baird said.

File photo taken in October 2016 shows coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a World Heritage Site. Photo: Kyodo

There are two forms of coral species defined by their reproduction strategies: brooding and spawning coral.

Brooder coral reproduces by releasing fertilised larvae that typically settle and connect to the reef within a day. Spawning coral instead release eggs and sperm that are externally fertilised and take four to seven days to settle.

The researchers found that following the bleaching events, brooding coral can establish itself more successfully and become the dominant species because of their shorter settling time, which dramatically changes the diversity of the reef.

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Baird said that researchers have always thought the Great Barrier Reef was "too big to fail" but the lack of adult corals means that reproduction is slowing dramatically.

"We're going to lose large numbers of corals and they're just not going to come back," Baird said.

Magical hard coral reef showing signs of minor coral bleaching. IMAGE: Getty

The IPCC report released last year stated that if the global surface temperature is permitted to rise by 2C, 99 percent of coral reefs across the globe will perish.

Baird noted that the finding of the study should be a call to action and "it's really time that governments globally started taking action on climate change."

"We need to stop worrying about our pockets," he said.