David Attenborough testifies on the Great Barrier Reef

Attenborough's shock at state of our reef

DAVID Attenborough has described the moment that a dive under the waters of the Great Barrier Reef made him realise the true extent of climate change.  

The natural historian appeared before a UK parliamentary committee overnight where he gave sobering testimony about Australia's part in helping him understand the effects of warming temperatures.

When asked what the most striking impact of climate change he had seen firsthand, Attenborough named the Great Barrier Reef and its changing corals.

"I think the most vivid was a few years ago sadly now, was at the Barrier Reef," he said.

"I first went to the Barrier Reef in the 1950s.

"I remember, it's almost the most vivid memory of my natural history life - the extraordinary experience of diving on the reef and suddenly seeing this multitude of fantastically beautiful forms of animals that you had never seen before.

"There are more individuals and more variety of life there on the coral reef than anywhere else in the world."

He went on to describe a trip to the reef a decade ago - more than 50 years after his first visit - and the moment of shock when he dived under the water.

"I will never forget diving on the reef about 10 years ago now and seeing that instead of this multitude of wonderful forms of life, that it was stark white."

"It had bleached white because of the rising temperatures and the increasing acidity."

He compared the visible effects of warming water on the reef to the less obvious effects of disappearing endangered species.

"The notion of 'oh well a particular rhinoceros may disappear'," he said.

"It's sad to people who care about natural history and rhinoceroses, but it didn't strike (me) that the whole population of the world is going to be affected. As it now is."

Attenborough told the committee MPs areas like the Great Barrier Reef were crucial to the world.

"30-40% of fish, all oceanic fish throughout the seas, depend upon the coral reefs at some time in their lives," he said. 

"If you wipe that out, you wipe out whole areas of the ocean.

"The notion that we have stopped this… is appalling."

Attenborough described his dives on the reef in a documentary in that aired in 2015.