Although I’ve never been to the Great Barrier Reef, as a diver it was always a dream to see; to be surrounded by the multitudes of fish, and wowed by the colours. However, the days in which I can truly experience its beauty are long gone.
Although I’ve never been to the Great Barrier Reef, as a marine biologist it was always a dream to see; to witness the diversity and life on the world’s most expansive reef, and see how perfectly each species fits into the ecosystem, creating the perfect ocean environment. However, the days in which there were many healthy ecosystems within the reef are long gone.
We have given up on trying to save such an iconic living structure.
I woke up this morning to multiple articles regarding the death of the Great Barrier Reef. I even saw an obituary posted for the 25 million year old structure. As a biologist, the news of the poor health of the world’s largest living structure didn’t surprise me, but rather the amount of acceptance of the death of such an important environment threw me for a loop. Each article I read sounded as if we have given up. We have given up on looking for a solution to the pollution and rising ocean temperatures. We have given up on trying to save such an iconic living structure. New York Post wrote that “the Great Barrier Reef has been declared dead by scientists investigating coral bleaching” and an obituary done by Outside Online stated that “the Great Barrier Reef of Australia has passed away in 2016 after a long illness.” I don’t know about you, but I see the human species as extremely stubborn; not one for accepting the loss of a battle. So why now, in the face of such an important environmental loss are we choosing to accept defeat?
It is EXTREMELY important to recognize that not all of the Great Barrier Reef has been lost…
Although the previously quoted articles bring the poor health of the Great Barrier Reef into light for a larger audience, these articles also lead readers to believe that there is nothing left of the reef worth saving, that we were too late. It is EXTREMELY important to recognize that not all of the Great Barrier Reef has been lost due to one of the largest bleaching events on record. Yes, large portions of it are. Research conducted by De’ath and others (2012) found that from 1985 to 2012 coral coverage on the Great Barrier Reef went from 28% to 13.8%, meaning that 50.7% of the initial coral cover had been lost due to bleaching, along with the invasive crown of thorns starfish and cyclones. (The Great Barrier Reef hasn’t had an easy go at it, that’s for sure). The paper by De’ath and others (2012) goes on to estimate that from 2012-2022 total coral coverage will be reduced again to about 10% following the same projected path. If you’re following along that means you’ve already realized that this is not 100% coral death on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to an estimated 1500 species of fish, more than 300 species of hard corals, more than 4000 species of molluscs and more than 400 species of sponges (Authority, G.B.R.M.P. 2010). We need to protect as much of this diversity as possible within the remaining healthy patches of reef. All is not lost yet. Let’s come together and reduce our coastal runoffs that coat the corals. Be conscious of the carbon you’re emitting, adding to our atmospheres increasing temperature, and thus the rising ocean temperatures resulting in coral bleaching. Spread awareness about the importance of our reef ecosystems. Get involved with citizen science programs like Coral Watch and help monitor the health of the corals. We’re a stubborn species, we can do it.
Authority, G. B. R. M. P. (2010). Water quality guidelines for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park 2010 current edition. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
De’ath, G., Fabricius, K. E., Sweatman, H., & Puotinen, M. (2012). The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(44), 17995-17999.