The Great Barrier Reef has always been one of Australia’s favoured travel destinations, but with rising sea temperatures, its future now looks in doubt.
In 2016, 700 km swaths of reefs in the northern region lost an average of 67% of its shallow-water corals in 8-9 months. The southern region barely escaped either and all coral reefs are now in danger of mass bleaching.
Coral bleaching is when reefs change colour to white. As little as a 1-2ºC temperature increase in the sea, can create underwater heatwaves that impact large numbers of algae the coral feed off. The increasing temperatures have caused the coral to become stressed, with industry pollution accelerating the bleaching also. “We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia.
This isn’t the first time bleaching has occurred at the Great Barrier Reef, 16% of the coral reefs were lost due to mass bleaching in the early 1980s and it was also reported to be found in 2002. However, the impact of these events is nothing compared to the destruction seen now. This is due to the gradual increase in the ocean’s temperature alongside the recent weather phenomenon, El Niño. Current estimates suggest that this combination will take the Great Barrier Reef around 10-15 years to recover, with some scientists stating it may never completely recover. In-fact, the impact can already be seen with the declining populations of local marine life and fish.
As a result, the Australian Government has developed a Reef 2050 Plan, where it aims:
- To improve the conditions of key ecosystems
- Maintain and preserve the connection between the traditional owners (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) and the land
- Manage reef habitats and ecosystems
- Strengthen community efforts to address climate change impacts on the reef
The government have already been heavily criticised for their failure to anticipate climate change in Australia, with the recent devastation acting as a warning to us all, to how difficult it can be to save our habitats and wildlife, after the damage has been done. However, there are ways that we can still help. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation suggest the following:
- Reduce electricity consumption
- Use renewable energy
- Re-use items such as coffee cups and water bottles
- Improve fuel efficiency by considering other forms of transportation such as walking or carpooling
- Reduce plastic consumption
- Recycle as much as possible
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation also offers a number of volunteering opportunities.
Click here to find more out more.
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