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"Our approach is to inform the public about the global issues and to encourage global solutions, but at the same time to act directly on local pressures on the reef," says chairman Russell Reichelt. "I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to improve the resilience of the system and I think the reef has the capacity to climb out of the terrible hole that it's fallen into."

The report says that while mitigating the effects of climate change and ocean acidification are necessary for the long term conservation of the reef, improving water quality and taking other measures to control the crown of thorns starfish are the most immediate goals.

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Controlling crown of thorns is key

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"The shocking thing about the research is that this downward turn in coral cover has occurred in the world's most sophisticated marine management park," says Professor Ove Hoegh Guldberg, who heads up the Coral Reef Ecosystems Lab at the University of Queensland. "We're not talking about reefs that have been under extreme environmental stresses, such as those in Southeast Asia; it's happening in this well managed marine park and it's happening very rapidly."

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All three of the drivers causing the coral decline are related to climate, says Ove, who was not involved in the study. Bleaching is Converse Dark Red Low

The study from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS),published today in the US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a dim view of the reef's future. "Without intervention, the GBR may lose the biodiversity and ecological integrity for which it was listed as a World Heritage Area."

The study is based on data collected by a reef monitoring program that began in 1985 and looked at 214 reefs in 2,258 separate surveys. It showed a 50.7 per cent decline in reef cover between 1985 and 2012.

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Three major causes of Great Barrier Reef decline

´╗┐Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral

Resultant flooding washes nutrients and sediments into the ocean, which causes increases in phytoplankton favouring the larvae of crown of thorns starfish and leading to potential population explosions, Ove told Australian Geographic. "More work is required to understand this link, but that is where it appears to be headed," he says.

Ove says that a global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is the long term key to preventing bleaching and reducing the intensity and volume of storm systems. "What we do in the coming decade will ultimately determine the future of ecosystems like this one," he adds.

"The starfish represents the main management lever that we haven't yet pulled," Peter says. "If we could prevent outbreaks from occurring, then all the evidence suggests we could return Converse Green Color the coral cover to its 1985 levels within 20 years."

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growing evidence to suggest warmer seas are leading to more intense tropical storms and more intense flooding of the sort we saw two years ago.

"The coral decline revealed by this study shocking as it is has happened before the most severe impacts of ocean warming and acidification associated with climate change have kicked in," says John Gunn CEO of AIMS. "We can achieve better water quality, we can tackle the challenge of crown of thorns, and we can continue to work to ensure the resilience of the reef to climate change is enhanced."

Former AIMS research director Dr Peter Doherty says that controlling the starfish, which has few natural predators, is crucial to ensuring the future of the reef.

Butdisturbing new researchrevealsit has lost half its coral cover since 1985.

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be repaired

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Other experts are optimistic that the damage done since the 1980s can be fixed. The GBRMPA says it is focused on improving water quality, reducing starfish numbers, and increasing general awareness about threats.

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