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David Attenborough Says the Great Barrier Reef Will Die This Century

His new documentary "Blue Planet II" issues a stark warning for Australia's national jewel.

Everybody's favourite outdoorsy grandpa, David Attenborough, has laid out a grim prediction for the Great Barrier Reef. In his latest documentary, Blue Planet II, which is to air in Australia early in 2018, Attenborough says the reef will be dead by 2100.

Why? Well, you already know the answer—climate change. And it's not just an issue of rising ocean temperatures, but also increasingly acidic waters. "The cause of this? Carbon dioxide," Attenborough explains, "the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more acidic the ocean becomes."


The threat isn't restricted to the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists have labelled the famed tourist attraction as a "canary in the coal mine," forewarning the fate of reefs around the world. Australia's Great Southern Reef, which stretches 70,000 square kilometres from Perth to Sydney is dying at a similar rate to the Great Barrier Reef.

"Coral reefs could be gone by the end of this century," marine biologist professor Chris Langdon warns Attenborough in the program—much of which was filmed on Lizard Island, just off the coast of Queensland.

But all is not lost, at least according to Professor Langdon, who says the reef's death could be averted by swift human action. Namely, moving away from burning fossil fuels to green energy sources. "Evidence points to the burning of fossil fuels as the primary cause for these increasing levels of carbon dioxide," he says.

Other scientists believe averting the reef's full-on extinction will require more direct intervention. In Melbourne, scientists are experimenting with selectively breeding corals that are more resistant to the stresses that are triggering mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. In the past few years, the GBR has experienced two mass bleaching events, which have affected up to 90 percent of the reef's coral.

Despite this overwhelming evidence of the reef's impending death, the World Heritage Committee failed to add it to its "danger list" at its last meeting in July this year. Instead, the committee praising "the progress made with the inception and initial implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2050 LTSP) and… expresse[d] its appreciation for the significant efforts by all those involved in the implementation of the 2050 LTSP."

Scientists aren't so sure.

Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2050 LTSP), the Australian Government's official plan for the Great Barrier Reef's future, largely focuses on improving water quality and reducing run-off from nearby farms—important issues, but nowhere near as damaging as the threat of climate change. At the same time, the Turnbull Government has backtracked on its renewable energy target, and is planning to cut Australia's marine parks by almost half.

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