Close on the heels of the new discovery that the Great Barrier Reef, was destroyed nearly 125,000 years ago, comes the astounding revelation that the world's biggest reef's future looks quite dismal thanks to a new threat.

The new threat that lurks over the Great Barrier Reef is not beaching, but poisonous algae that are killing the coral.

In a new study conducted by Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, researchers reveal that the "weed-like" algae is destroying coral in the reef courtesy high levels of carbon dioxide in the environment.

The study suggests that if the carbon dioxide emission rate continues at the same pace it is now, major parts of the reef building coral could be impacted substantially by 2050, and may get wiped out by 2100.

The Findings Of The Study

Researchers have been aware that carbon dioxide or CO2 has a detrimental effect on the behavior of seaweed; however, scientist have been unable to explain the process - until now.

The observations and experiments by the scientists were effective in measuring the effects that increased CO2 levels in seawater had on algae.

The team is of the belief that algae will be competing with coral for space in the reef. Just like weeds slowly take over, the algae will follow the same path and may eventually completely take over the reef, which will result in the coral dying off by 2100.  

According to the researchers, the algae is able to kill the coral thanks to the spike in the effectiveness of a chemical compound that is able to poison the latter.

Basically, once the CO2 levels see an increase in the seawater, the effectiveness of the chemical compounds of the algae increases. This poison from the algae in turn weakens the coral and assists the algae in expanding its territory.

The researchers have found that certain algae are able to produce more toxins, which act as suppressants for coral or kill them quickly. This process is quite a swift one and occurs in "a matter of only weeks." The most toxic algae species per researchers is the brown algae, which is quite common around the world.

"This is a major step forward in understanding how seaweeds can harm coral and has important implications for comprehending the consequences of increased carbon dioxide emissions on the health of the Great Barrier Reef," noted Guillermo Diaz-Pulido, the co-author of the study.

The algae taking over the coral is a major concern and could contribute to Great Barrier Reef's degradation along with other disturbances such as coral leaching, cyclones and starfish outbreaks.

The Great Barrier Reef's Future

Things look bleak for the Great Barrier Reef if adequate steps or not taken to control CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, which are having detrimental effects on the environment. The researchers reveal that the issue is so large that simply removing some seaweed from the Great Barrier Reef will not help as it will regenerate and grow again. The only way to address the problem is by reducing CO2 levels per Diaz-Pulido.

The study's findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Photo: Kyle Taylor | Flickr 

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