This is going to be short&sweet, and something I am writing just after I’ve thought about it (although I’m publishing this a few days later).
Late last Friday night, an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef circling Facebook caught my eye. My heart jumped to my throat and I started a frantic Google search to find more information on it. Could it be true – could the Great Barrier Reef really be just gone? I had visited the Reef back in 2013 during my gap year in Australia, and just the thought of the demise of the reef broke my heart.
Well, turns out the article everybody’s been sharing was an exaggerated piece of pessimistic blogging. However, the idea behind it isn’t completely far-fetched.
So, what’s happening?
In May 2016, it was reported that a large part of world’s largest living ecosystem had been severely bleached due to the rising ocean temperatures. The coral live in symbiosis with algae, but when they get stressed, they release that algae. This leads to the bleaching and can eventually cause their death in case the damage isn’t repaired soon enough.
Scientists visited some of the most severely damaged reefs again in September and found out that many of the bleached coral had died. Fewer species of fish now live on the reef as well.
How serious is it?
Even though it would be wrong to say that the Reef was dead, the situation is pretty dire. To put it in proportion, a third of the central and northern corals have died and 93% of individual corals have been damaged. Coral repairs slowly, and it could take up to ten years for it to return to its original flash – that is, if there isn’t another bleaching epidemic.
What can we do to stop it?
Now to the good news – there’s still hope! Unlike that depressing obituary would led you to believe, the life of the reef isn’t over yet; if anything, now’s the time to realise the size of the damage and speed up the conservation efforts.
As a tourist, you shouldn’t stop visiting the reef. You might think that visiting the damaged reef seems counterproductive since you might worry about hurting the ecosystem even more – let alone worry about it not being as spectacular as you imagined it to be – but tourism on the Reef is a billion dollar business. The money gained from tourists can help preserving the reefs. On the other hand, people tend to care about stuff they’re familiar with. Some of the most damaged parts of the Reef are out of the tourist zone and worse preserved than the popular spots, since tour companies are out to provide a good experience for their customers and they need the coral to look nice for them. So, the more popular spots tend to get highlighted in preservation programmes.
However, the ultimate culprit to the doom of the Reef is climate change. Climate change was the hottest topic in town just some years ago, but even though you rarely read about it on the news anymore, doesn’t mean it’s magically disappeared. It’s the climate change that has caused the waters to warm and the corals to get stressed. Hopefully in the near future advances in technology and international contracts can drastically cut back on the impact of climate change.
If you’d like to learn more then check out my source for this post: this article in the Independent.