The Death of the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef: one of the most exquisite gems that we have on this planet. Home to a diverse array of tropical marine life, over two million people visit this breathtakingly beautiful destination per year. For now, it seems inconceivable to imagine the earth without it, yet recent concerns have brought doubt over the future of the reef.

In November last year, President Obama presented the problem to a global audience, urging the Australian Government to do more to preserve the earth’s natural heritage. He voiced concerns that the reef will otherwise become a destination that his grandchildren will be unable to see – a harrowing thought for us all. The size of the reef has halved in the past 30 years and it is evident that immediate action must be taken; the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’, with a decision to be made early this year.

Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, disputed Obama’s claims despite evidence that the Queensland Government is not stepping up to its responsibilities. The Government is subsidising a mine-to-port railway, which would expand the major coal port located adjacent to the reef.  An expansion would lead to an increase in dredging and shipping, directly affecting marine life. Shipping traffic is predicted to increase by 480 ships per year, potentially exposing the reef to further pollution and waste, altering the water’s chemistry.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’, with a decision to be made early this year

Australia’s attitude towards the coal industry in general is a cause for concern. The rise in coal exports will produce destructive carbon emissions whilst also driving down coal prices, encouraging the world to use coal over less damaging renewable fuels. It seems that Australia is behind the times with their practices; many US banks have refused to invest in any further developments within the reef. A further worrying factor is that the organisation in charge of conservation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, is facing budget cuts meaning the number of people designated to look after the reef is dwindling.

It’s only fair to acknowledge that Australia is taking steps to protect the reef, but it may be a case of too little too late. Debates over the controversial issue of dredging led to a new bill banning the practice within the World Heritage Site for the next 10 years. Dredging can smother marine life and cause coral diseases, so this is a positive move in the right direction.

Water acidification, coral bleaching and rising sea temperatures are problems that we are creating through our behaviour around the world

It’s not only the Government’s actions that are threatening the existence of the reef. The Crown-of-thorns starfish feeds on the reef’s coral and is responsible for half of the corals’ decline in the past 30 years. Tourism is also detrimental, with careless visitors dropping anchors onto the coral and resorts emptying waste into the sea.

The Government has implemented the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, outlining how they will improve the situation. However, critics have noted that the plan does not focus on climate change at all- the biggest factor destroying the reef. Of course, the problem of climate change is a responsibility worldwide. Water acidification, coral bleaching and rising sea temperatures are problems that we are creating through our behaviour around the world.

Will the reef survive? There is evidence that coral can acclimatise and adapt to more acidic conditions, it’s true that the reef is one of the most resilient tropical marine ecosystems in the world. But this may not be enough; we need to work on a global scale to save this wonderfully unique environment, not push it as far as it can go. The more threats we present, the less resilient it will become.

Joanna Hill 

Image courtesy of Richard Ling via Flickr

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3 Comments on this post.
  • mememine69
    9 February 2015 at 16:23
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    Real Climate Blame News
    -Due to climate change’s polar ice expansion, Canada’s Liberal leader; Justin Trudeau now says that a Carbon Tax will pay for more icebreakers.
    -ISIS is offering to save the planet by reversing the effects of unstoppable warming with a nuclear winter.
    -Scientists now say that millions of wind turbines could send the planet out of orbit.
    -How many climate blame scientists does it take to change a light bulb? None, but they do have full consensus that it “could” change.
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    -Why did the climate blame “believer” cross the road? Because everyone else was.
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    News Flash!
    *Polar bears were indigenous to as far south as Minnesota but called the Yellow bear because it retained it’s summer coat longer but still the same bear.
    *We have such little smog now that “smog levels” no longer even measure smog; they measure conditions that “could” lead to being able to measure any smog. That’s why “Alerts”, “Advisories”, “Watches” and “Be Kind to Air Days” are only predictions that smog “could be” measured within the next 36 hours. And if that happens its called a; “Smog Warning” or real smog. Now for a decade and a half we have had no real detectable or more accurately; “meaningful” smog levels at all.
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit.
    *Not one CO2 scientist will say their scientific method prevents them from agreeing it is “PROVEN” unstoppable warming will happen and nothing beyond “could be” and not one IPCC warning says; “inevitable” or “eventual” or “unavoidable” despite being called a; “possible threat to the planet”.

  • Grover Cleveland
    9 February 2015 at 17:07
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    The Great Barrier Reef is an area of outstanding natural beauty and of great economic importance to Australian tourism. That being the case, why would either Queensland or the Australian federal governments willfully mismanage it? To say that government action is “too little, too late” gives great discredit to the billions of dollars and thousands of man-hours spent on preserving the reef. Some environmental impact is inevitable – to say that Queensland should simply stop shipping along its coast is ridiculous, and would see thousands lose their jobs and the economy simply grind to a halt. The major concern is higher ocean temperatures, which are simply outside of the reach of Australia, with our 0.329% of the world’s population.

    Barack Obama’s comments on Australian government policies were rude and disrespectful, made even more so by his status as the head of state of the world’s largest polluter. At the time he made those comments, he was a guest of Australia at the G-20 summit in Brisbane – an event which Australia spent $400 million on, a large portion of which went into security for the most prominent world leader: Obama. To use an invitation to a foreign country to criticise its domestic policy is the height of arrogance, especially when the domestic policies of the United States are more likely to have a positive or negative impact.

  • Sana
    10 February 2015 at 06:46
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    If you care about the reef and are interested in how science influences decision making for the environment, I’m running an online study for my PhD research. I invite anyone to take part anonymously in this study, which focuses on evidence and values in the GBR. It takes just a few minutes and doesn’t require any special expertise or experience.

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