The Great Barrier Reef is Rapidly Dying

Courtesy of Salon


In October, the world was shocked by several news media headlines that read, “Great Barrier Reef Pronounced Dead.”

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), a naturally occurring ecosystem along the entire Queensland, AU coastline, is considered one of the world’s natural wonders. Although it is not actually dead like the articles claimed, it is under severe stress and endangerment. Losing one of the most exotic and striking places on Earth would be a travesty to current and future generations.

The GBR is the world’s largest reef ecosystem and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning it has international importance. According to World Wildlife Fund, it is home to 1500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, 134 species of sharks and rays, and a third of the world’s corals in total. National Geographic scientists, however, say that the GBR has lost 50 percent of its ecosystem in recent years due to coral bleaching.

Coral are naturally very colorful animals, whose vibrant pigments are caused by algae that live within the coral’s tissues. The algae can be killed by stressful responses to high irradiance—environmental factors like sediments, harmful chemicals, freshwater, and fluctuating water temperatures can cause this stress, according to National Geographic.

Coral bleaching is directly tied to the global warming issues that Earth is currently facing. Large emissions of waste from pollution are entering the atmosphere and contributing to rising sea levels and changing water temperatures, which kills the algae that coral needs to survive. With no algae, the death of the coral is certain, which dominos down the GBR food chain. Ultimately, the animals that live in, around, and off of coral will cease to exist due to the coral disruption in the ecosystem.

While some might see the reef as nothing more than a beautiful destination vacation spot, the realities that fishing communities around the GBR face aren’t as glamorous. In Papua New Guinea, locals fish in their reefs in order to export fish to other Southeast Asian countries or North America to feed the exponential growth in sushi consumption. With dying reefs and high migrations of schools of fish, the fishing industry is shrinking rapidly because third world countries are overfishing their reefs.

Scientists and politicians all over the world are working to combat the damage to the environment. The majority of the world is turning a blind eye to environmental conservation because large corporations and organizations don’t want to cut back on revenue to ensure the longevity and prosperity of the oceans.

Although the GBR is not considered dead, it is on its way out. The 25 million-year-old reef may not exist for future generations if attention isn’t brought to the issue. Sushi is a passing fad—the sustainability of Earth is not.

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