It’s not a great time to be the Great Barrier Reef. When sea temperatures around the famed Australian landmark hit record highs early this year, 60 percent of the coral on the reef suffered from heat-related bleaching, according to marine scientists. Warm water temperatures caused the algae that live on the reef to leave, disrupting the symbiotic relationship between coral and algae and sometimes resulting in the death of the coral. Janice Lough of the Australian Institute of Marine Science pointed to global warming as a possible cause of the bleaching. Meanwhile, the reef is facing another threat: shipping accidents. In November 2000, a 21,000-ton freighter loaded with fuel and other hazardous cargo ran aground on part of the reef; three coral areas had to be destroyed to free it. Now the Australian government is planning to implement 41 measures to protect the reef from shipping disasters, including using local pilots in the more difficult passages. Such measures could go a ways toward protecting the reef, but, as Lough said, “Reef managers can do all they can to reduce all the other threats to coral reefs, but they can’t solve individually the global problem [of climate change].”

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