Underwater Forests Are Devastated Due To Extreme Heatwaves

First Posted: Jul 09, 2016 05:21 AM EDT

The kelp forests off the western coast of Australia, which are part of the Great Southern Reef, are dying because of the marine heatwaves between 2011 and 2013, according to a new study.

The Great Southern Reef is located near the southern coast of Australia. It is a system of rocky reefs covered by kelp forests that stretch about 2,300 km along the south coast of Australia. They extend past Sydney on the east coast, down to Tasmania to Kalbarri north of Perth.

The study was printed in Science on Thursday. It showed that the Great Southern Reef has lost 100 kilometers of coastline to a series of intense heatwaves from 2011 to 2013. The researchers said that the problem is getting worse.

Dr. Thomas Wernberg, from the University of Western Australia's oceans institute and lead author of the study explained that if the trend continued, the kelp forests could retract to the southern tip of the state, with economic and environmental consequences as grave as the loss of the Great Barrier Reef. He thought also that the next big heatwave is just going to push what they see in the north ultimately further down depending on how bad the heatwave is.

"All the projections are that it will get warmer, we will get more frequent heatwaves, so, unfortunately, I think it's just a matter of time," said Wernberg.

According to the Guardian, the heatwave in 2011 killed about 43 percent of kelp in Western Australia. On the other hand, the northern tip near Kalbarri most was able to regrow. Wernberg explained that the northern area was now being colonized by corals and coral reef species.

The Great Southern Reef is a home for thousands of species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other marine invertebrates that cannot be found in other parts of the world. It also adds $10 billion to Australia's annual economy through tourism and fishing.

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