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Australia's Great Barrier Reef Is Slowly Moving South

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The Great Barrier Reef is slowly inching toward the south and away from the equator to escape the warmer temperatures of the ocean. The scientists, however, believe it won’t be able to leave Brisbane waters. Many factors such as ocean acidification may halt its expansion to the south.  ( Gaby Stein | Pixabay )

Underneath the waters of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef seems to be doing all it can to avoid the warming ocean temperatures: it is moving south.

This discovery is based on the fossil records and the simulation models performed by UK scientists. Based on their analyses, they noticed a pattern of equatorial decline and the expansion of the coral reef system toward the poles.

These events usually occurred during times when the waters became too hot and that the coral reef migration may be an indication they're seeking colder waters.

Not Leaving Anytime Soon

The so-called coral reef migration may send Australians reeling, but the scientists issued some caveats.

First, it doesn't happen overnight. The previous episodes occurred in a span of hundreds of years. Second, it's less likely to leave the Brisbane waters. Other factors could prevent it from expanding significantly.

"It should also be borne in mind that reef corals, and coral reef ecosystems, are far less likely to survive other stressors, such as overfishing and pollution, when residing in marginal habitats," the researchers wrote in a study now published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The scientists' analyses also didn't account for ocean acidification, a condition in which the waters absorb carbon dioxide, leaving them acidic. Thus, their projections are likely to be more optimistic in the face of the anthropogenic climate.

The researchers believed the fossil records can be a valuable tool to examine how coral reefs react to global warming and climate change.

The results of the fossil record analyses also corroborate the outcomes of another study using the satellite images from Google Earth.

Scientists including those from Australia discovered that significant changes to the reef system are visible from space.

Using the satellite images, they identified grazing halos, which means these are places where the fish feed. They could use such information to determine the health of the marine life in the area and, by extension, the coral reefs.

This approach is vital since it means researchers can now study the response of the corals to protection and climate change even if they are remote or inaccessible.

The Great Barrier Reef Struggles To Survive

The Great Barrier Reef is a richly bio-diverse massive coral reef system that has become one of the symbols of Australia, and the extreme temperature changes are threatening its survival.

These include coral bleaching, where the corals released a certain type of algae as a response to the thermal stress, turning their color to pale white. It then damages the food supply and makes the corals vulnerable to disease.

In an effort to save the reefs, the Australian government commits $500 million, of which $40 million goes toward reef system health monitoring and $45 million to community engagement.

Australian scientists have also deployed sun shields to further protect the reef system, but the recovery has been slow, and complete healing is less likely to happen anytime soon.

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