Great Barrier Reef's dying coral and nine other signs climate is impacting Earth's most beautiful natural landmarks

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals. Credit: Kike Calvo/AP

More than half of the corals on Australia's Great Barrier Reef have disappeared in just over 20 years due to warmer seas driven by climate change, a study has shown.

Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland found that the steepest reduction came in 2016 and 2017 due to mass bleaching caused by warmer waters.

In a report published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers said between 1995 and 2017 coral of all sizes and species dropped by more than 50%.

However, table-shaped corals, which provide habitats for fish and other marine life, are the worst hit.

But it is not the only natural phenomenon under threat due to climate change.

CO2 emissions are melting glaciers on the Himalayan mountain range. Credit: AP
  • Himalayan glaciers are melting

If CO2 emissions are not cut rapidly, two thirds of the glaciers found in the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges could disappear, a report published last year said.

Researchers for the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment said if global temperatures rise by 2C, then half the glaciers would be gone by 2100.

Even if temperature rise is limited to 1.5C this century, at least one third of the ice would go, the report said.

The glaciers are a critical water source for 250 million people in eight countries, deeding ten of the world's most important river systems including the Ganges, Indus, Tellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy.

Warming temperatures also puts the endangered snow leopard at risk of extinction, conservationists have warned.

The change in climate could erode the big cat's habitat and squeeze them into smaller ranges where they are more likely to come into conflict with humans.

Rebecca May, WWF-UK’s snow leopard programme lead, said in 2015: “The Himalayas region will face a major crisis if we choose to ignore climate change.

“Not only do we risk losing majestic species such as the snow leopard, but hundreds of millions of people who rely on water flowing from these mountains may be affected."

  • So are the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro

Glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro have also shrunk and are feared to be completely ice-free within two decades.

Some 85% of the ice has disappeared in the last 100 years and melting has increased from 1.4% annually before 1989 to 2.4% today.

It too is a vital part of the ecology for local communities in Tanzania supplying drinking water, irrigation for crops and hydroelectric power production.

Venice is 'sinking' by up to 1mm a year. Credit: AP
  • Severe flooding in Venice has been blamed on climate change

The Mayor of Venice said that severe flooding in the Italian city last year was a direct result of climate change.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted that the floods, caused by the highest water levels in the region in more than 50 years, would leave a "permanent mark".

"Now the government must listen," he said. "These are the effects of climate change... the costs will be high."

The high-water mark hit 74in in November 2019 and flooded more than 85% of the city. The highest level recorded was 78in during infamous flooding in 1966.

And that's not all, researchers warn the city may be sinking into its foundations by up to 1mm a year.

Blue footed boobies have abandoned breeding colonies in the Galapagos and increased migrations. Credit: AP
  • Breeding in the Galapagos islands is on the decline

Species that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection are now facing new challenges caused by climate change.

Warmer temperatures could lead to more frequent 'El Nino' events - a warm band of ocean water - and affect biodiversity in the islands.

Research has suggested that warmer temperatures could trigger migrations which could reduce nesting and hatching success for the archipelago's giant tortoise and green turtle.

Changes in air temperature could also interfere with the iguana’s ability to regulate temperature and changes in rainfall could reduce nesting success. 

Temperature changes are also thought to change breeding and migration behavious for marine iguanas and blue footed boobies.

Joshua Trees could die out by the end of the century. Credit: AP
  • Joshua Trees are dying

The Joshua Tree - a symbol of the American desert - is under threat according to scientists.

The unique natural habitat in the Joshua Tree National Park in California will almost completely disappear by 2100, researchers say.

And a decline of the symbiotic yucca moth, which the unique plan relies on to reproduce, is accelerating the cactus-like trees decline.

  • Florida Everglades are in danger

The Everglades National Park is in danger due to a reduction in water flow which could impact wildlife that relies on its unique ecosystem.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that the park contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, is a significant breeding ground for wading birds and has the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie.

The aquatic ecosystem, the habitat of a range of marine species, is now in such decline that UNESCO named it as a World Heritage in Danger in 2010.

Work is ongoing to restore the flow and quality of water to the Everglades to protect its wildlife, including the crocodiles and alligators that it is famous for.

The Sahara is expanding. Credit: AP
  • The Sahara desert is expanding

Changes in rainfall levels has caused the world's largest desert to grow by around 10% over the last century.

Most of the desert's wildlife habitats are on the edge of the desert close to the scarce water sources and vegetation.

But as the desert grows, wildlife populations are likely to fall back or move on to other environments. Climate change will also affect humans in living nearby impacting on crop production.

  • The Dead Sea is shrinking

The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on Earth and with a high concentration of salt, a popular spot for bathers.

But the sea's waters are now receding by about 3ft a year causing sinkholes to appear.

It has receded by almost 33% in just 50 years shrinking from 386 square miles to 259 square miles.

  • The Solomon Islands are disappearing

The tropical Solomon Islands are shrinking with several landmasses disappearing due to rising sea levels.

At least five islands in the archipelago have been submerged under the sea and coastlines have shrunk as a result of climate change causing communities to relocate.