Tia Ghose -
The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.
The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place.
The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.
“There was a very significant shift in the coral community composition that was associated with the colonization of Queensland,” said study co-author John Pandolfi, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland Australia.
Europeans began to colonize Queensland, Australia, in the 1860s, cutting down forests to make way for sheep grazing and sugar plantations.
By the 1930s, large amounts of fertilizer and pesticide-laden runoff poured from rivers into the nearby ocean.
Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.