The Great Barrier Reef Isn't Dead...Yet

The Great Barrier Reef has been making headlines lately—but not in praise of it’s beauty or contribution to our planet’s immense diversity of life, but as an unfortunate and deadly consequence of the global warming crisis that we most definitely are in.

 If you haven’t heard about this yet, here are the basics; a few weeks ago, the magazine Outside published an “obituary” for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The author argued that the famous coral reef has passed away due to mass bleaching caused by climate change and increased ocean acidification. Since this article was published, there has been a firestorm of responses by world-renowned scientists and upset college students alike.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven great wonders of the natural world—and with reason! It stretches over 1800 miles in length, and contains the world’s largest and most diverse corals, not to mention being the home for thousands of different species of fish, birds, and other aquatic animals.

However, due to its immense diversity of life, the Great Barrier Reef is also more susceptible to being affected by changes in the environment. According to studies conducted by the Australian government’s Marine Park Authority earlier this year, about 22 percent of coral in the Reef is officially dead due to the worst mass-bleaching event on record.

Just for some clarification: coral bleaching is a stress response triggered by changes in temperature, light, and nutrients. Coral have a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae, which provide the coral with food and it’s brilliant colors. However, when the ocean is warmed up, or polluted by runoff containing highly acidified water, the relationship between the coral and algae becomes stressed, so the algae are expelled. This results in the coral losing their color (hence the term “bleaching”) as well as their major source of food, and is therefore even more susceptible to damage and disease.

Some people have been upset about the “obituary” published by Outside for dramatizing the situation in the Great Barrier Reef, because 70% of the remaining coral is still considered alive, and there have been instances where coral that has been bleached was eventually restored. However, these instances are rare, and could only possibly happen if whatever was causing the coral bleaching was removed soon—and it’s highly unlikely that all the pollution and the increased ocean temperature will be able to be returned to normal anytime soon, if ever.

As well, others have responded in anger over the article, because it implies that there is nothing left for us to do to save the Great Barrier Reef, and that articles such as this discourage people from doing all they can do preserve the living coral. I truly hope that this isn’t the kind of impact this news has left on people. The point of this article is more to inspire people to action. It’s time that we, as a national and even as a global society, stop debating about whether or not global warming is true (hint: it most definitely is, and the Great Barrier Reef dying is a like a huge and glaring message from the planet telling us to start taking it seriously!) and to start caring for the Earth a little better.

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