Australia's Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral cover since 1985, according to a new study published Monday. The loss has been spurred by a combination of factors, including hurricanes, coral-eating starfish and coral bleaching.
The paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the most comprehensive survey of a reef system over such a long period. The researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that reef cover fell from 28 percent to 13.8 percent over the past 27 years, with two-thirds of the decline occurring since 1998.
The sobering findings highlighted how even the world's most protected marine areas are under assault from natural forces and causes linked to the human activity that is resulting in climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, featuring nearly 3,000 individual reefs within 133,205 square miles. A third of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is off-limits to fishing and collecting.