More than 2,000 coral reef scientists have urged Australian government to protect the Great Barrier Reef and to stop endorsing the export of coal

More than 2,500 marine scientists and policy experts are urging the Australian government to protect the world’s largest and most well-known coral ecosystem: the Great Barrier Reef.

Scientists have signed strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, imploring immediate action towards reducing Australia’s carbon emissions to save the Great Barrier Reef from rapid bleaching.“This year has seen the worst mass bleaching in history, threatening many coral reefs around the world including the whole of the northern Great Barrier Reef, the biggest and best-known of all reefs,” they wrote. “The damage to this Australian icon has already been devastating.”

“Coral reefs … are threatened with complete collapse under rapid climate change,” the scientists, who last week attended the International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii, write in their letter to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“Fifty percent of coral reefs have already been destroyed by a combination of local and global factors. Additional serious degradation will occur over the next two decades as temperatures continue to rise.”

The letter from comes at the end of the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium with the International Society for Reef Studies held last week in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was written on behalf of the symposium’s attendees by the respective past and present Society presidents, Robert H. Richmond and Ruth Gates, to chastise the Australian government for failing to prioritise the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem.

“We call upon the Australian Commonwealth Government to stop endorsing the export of coal, and specifically to stop or revoke the approval of new mines, including those in Queensland, which have the potential to become the world’s biggest and most harmful single sources of atmospheric pollution,” they write.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently warned the ongoing coral bleaching event would impact U.S. reefs in the second half of 2016 and into 2017, “with no signs of stopping” globally.

According to the letter, Australia has shirked its responsibilities as steward of the Great Barrier Reef under the World Heritage Convention, particularly by allowing port dredging and shipping of fossil fuels in the reef area.

The scientists also offer up a way to protect the Great Barrier Reef from future climate change: Get off coal.

Approval of the Carmichael coal mine is one of the most controversial coal decisions Australia has made in recent years. The mine, which will be located in central Queensland, has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who say that the emissions the mined coal will produce will worsen the climate change that’s causing coral bleaching — a process in which stressed coral expel the photosynthetic algae living in their tissues, and are left weakened and more likely to die if water conditions don’t go back to normal. As the climate changes, coral bleaching is predicted to become more frequent and severe.

A graphic explaining coral bleaching versus death, from The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A graphic explaining coral bleaching versus death, from The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is undergoing the most severe bleaching event in its history, as mass bleaching has killed more than a third of the coral in the northern and central parts of Great Barrier Reef. Australian scientists said the coral mortality figure will likely raise some of the remaining 65% of coral in the northern and central reefs fail to recover from bleaching.

The Symposium proposes the Australian Government stop exporting coal mining, port dredging, and shipping fossil fuels across the Great Barrier Reef. It specifically highlights the potential damage that could be caused by proposed new mines in Queensland, stating they “have the potential to become the world’s biggest and most harmful single sources of atmospheric pollution”.

Read the original, full letter here.