IT'S one of the wonders of the natural world – the Great Barrier Reef down the eastern seaboard of Australia. There are some 3,000 separate reefs, including a thousand islands, in a distance of some 1,500 miles as it covers over 100,000 square miles.

It’s the biggest coral reef system on the planet and it’s at risk from the way that we humans behave. Quite simply we are abusing many millions of little animals, the coral polyps, as our fossil fuel dependency puts them at risk.

They need the algae that live with them to provide sugars, and also the range of brilliant colours. Together they flourish in clear, salt water that’s between 24 and 30 degrees and not too acid. With the climate warming, and the extra CO2 increasing the acidity the algae die leaving the polyps to starve.

The resulting bleaching process involving damaged polyps has only recently become the global threat that was first recognized in 1998. It happened again in 2010 and now, very seriously, both 2016 and 2017 have seen universal bleaching back to back for the first time so the polyps will struggle to recover, as they need at least ten years to do so.

The increase in storm and cyclonic activity with climate change means that the warmer seas are now less clear, and the development of coal mining in Queensland and the annual impact of over two million tourists is certainly not helping.

As polyps grow so slowly the longer term problem is they are unlikely to survive rising sea levels, and they are an excellent example of a living population that will be stressed, at the best, or nearly wiped out as the climate changes rapidly.

While human beings are more adaptable we must learn from the fate of another living life form or our time will come.