TOWNSVILLE, Australia (CNN/NETWORK TEN) -- It's one of Australia's biggest tourist attractions and it's disappearing at a rapid rate. The Great Barrier Reef has lost fifty percent of its coral over the past thirty years and it could lose more unless urgent action is taken.
Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to one of Australia's natural wonders. But they may not be able to see it for much longer.
A 27-year study says it's vanishing at a rapid rate. Dr. Hugh Sweatman with the Australian Institute of Marine Science says, "We've found fifty percent of the reef's coral has disappeared"
Australian Institute of Marine Science CEO John Gunn says, "There is no exaggeration, this is unassailable data"
The Institute of Marine Science study found 48 percent of the damage is caused by storms and cyclones, 42 percent by the crown of thorns starfish, while coral bleaching accounts for ten percent. Sweatman says, "Coral bleaching and cyclones are caused by global warming."
And they're difficult to control, so scientists are focusing on containing the starfish. Gunn says, "If we do nothing, it'll continue to decline"
Conservation groups want to slash the release of fertilizer from cane farms. WWF reef expert Nick Heath says, "This is actually fertilizer pollution feeding the crown of thorns starfish"
Canegrowers say they're doing the best they can. Canegrowers CEO Steve Greenwood says, "Our growers are now amongst the most environmentally friendly in the world. They put a massive amount of resources into improving their practices."
One of the mains concerns of the study is the effect it will have on the $1 billion tourism on the reef contributes to the state's $18 billion a year tourism industry. Sweatman says, "And that's clearly affected by people's perception of whether the reef is in good condition or not."
Without an urgent response, the impact could be devastating. Heath says, "We're looking at a 5 percent coral cover unless serious action is taken."
Gunn says, "Even if warming didn't increase, we'd lose another half of what 's there over the next ten years."