Queensland

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September 15, 2011 7 p.m. local time

© 2009 Flickr/Steve Evans cc by 2.0

If you’re a scuba diver, we don’t have to tell you just how beautiful and important the Great Barrier Reef is. Divers from across the globe are rushing to see the world’s largest coral reef before climate change ruins it forever.

Located in Australia’s second largest state, beautiful Queensland boasts six World Heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is home to one of the greatest diversities of life anywhere on the planet, with thousands of species of fish, plant life, marine mammals, sea turtles and birds. In 2007, it received a new designation: one of the 10 natural wonders most at risk due to climate change.

© 2006 WikiCommons/Bruno de Giusti cc by sa 2.5

Dramatically rising temperatures in the Coral Sea have caused eight mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef since 1979. To give you some perspective, before 1979, the number of known mass coral bleaching events was zero.

So what is coral bleaching? Coral reefs are colonies of tiny animals that have algae (a plant) living inside them. As the temperature of the sea water rises due to global warming, the algae get kicked out of the corals, leaving the ghostly white skeleton of the reef behind. Bleaching can damage or kill coral reefs, which puts all of those thousands of species of fish, plants, mammals and birds that rely on the coral at risk as well. By 2050, warming and other effects of climate change put 95 percent of the Great Barrier Reef at extreme risk.

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