Updated: Jun 27, 2021
Seaside Sustainability shared a post discussing coral bleaching and the detrimental effects it is having on both coral reefs and the marine life that call them home. Like so many consequences of climate change and global warming, it can be difficult to think about the environmental harm to ocean ecosystems in such an abstract way. So, we’ve decided to highlight the effects on one particular reef in particular: the Great Barrier Reef. As one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the largest coral reef system on the planet, it is the quintessential example of the frightening damage our oceans currently face.
In 2018, my family and I traveled to Australia and had the opportunity to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. What I imagined would be a memorable day surrounded by bright colors and all kinds of fish was indeed a day I’ll never forget… but not for the reason I expected. Though I was able to admire a number of beautiful coral, there was a large portion of the reef that seemed rather dull in color and there were fewer fish surrounding me than I anticipated. Even as someone aware of global warming effects, it was difficult to face head-on the destroyed coral. I felt a whirlwind of emotions realizing that the beauty of these reefs is diminishing on a daily basis and that so many people can easily ignore the dire straits our ocean is in when they haven’t seen it for themselves. The reality of the situation, however, is something we cannot disregard.
The World Wildlife Fund reports that over the last three decades, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced large amounts of coral bleaching, pollution resulting in deadly starfish outbreaks, and lost as much as half of its coral cover. These facts show just how much damage has already been done and reveal how vulnerable the reef is to future destruction. With 2020 being recorded as the second hottest year, just after 2016, the future of the Great Barrier Reef and all other reefs looks bleak. Coral bleaching has become more and more widespread across the reef and shows no signs of stopping while we allow the progression of global warming and ocean pollution.
The good news is that in 2020, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment unveiled their plan outlining how they will protect and improve the Great Barrier Reef over the next 30 years. Considering how far human beings have allowed the damage to go, this is encouraging news. As a major tourist attraction, the Great Barrier Reef serves as an example of how the battle against climate change is a team effort. Without the restriction of tourism and the cooperation of the rest of the world, Australia can only do so much to reverse the repercussions of coral bleaching, runoff and pollution.
We hope this small look at the risks facing Great Barrier Reef, and all reefs for that matter, encourages you to look into the effects that you and your community may be having on waterways near your home, whether you’re near the ocean, rivers, ponds, etc.