Fish 'starving to death'

* By Vincent Morello

* December 27, 2006

//www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20978108-29277,00.html

FISH species on the Great Barrier Reef are starving to death because climate change is killing off their food source, an environmental study has found.

Rising sea temperatures have bleached more than 30 per cent of the world's coral reefs, a five-year study by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) has found.

As a result, smaller fish which would normally feed on live coral are dying off, which could throw the fish food chain out of balance, and consequently hinder local fishing and tourism operations.

The coral damage is predicted to double by 2030 if sea temperatures continue their warming patterns, CoECRS senior researcher Morgan Pratchett said.

The starving fish fail to breed and fail to migrate to thriving reefs.

"Fish can be very territorial and it may be hard for refugee fish, which have lost their reef, to relocate elsewhere because the locals will try to keep them out," Dr Pratchett said.

CoECRS was set up in 2005 in Townsville, Queensland, to study coral reefs over a five-year period.

It is a partnership between three Queensland universities and two marine research organisations. Dr Pratchett and his colleagues spent five years charting the collapse of coral-feeding butterfly fish on the reef following severe bleaching between 2000 and 2002.

Bleaching causes the corals to shed their natural bacteria and die.

"Ours and other studies indicate that when coral bleaching occurs, affecting up to 10 per cent of the reef, it affects the abundance of nearly two-thirds of the fish species on that reef.

"As the damage rises to 20 per cent and above, there is a marked decline in the richness of fish species on the reef and the losses can last for years."

But coral-feeding fish will return if the corals recover, Dr Pratchett said.


Informant: binstock

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