The internet is in an uproar - the Great Barrier Reef is dead. The reef "... passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old." On 11th October 2016, Rowan Jacobsen posted an obituary to the reef on Outside Online which quickly went viral - at the time of writing it has had over 1.4 million shares. Scientists however, have stated that although a portion of the reef is dead, the headlines that have followed this article have been greatly exaggerated. Does this mean that, despite the extensive damage, there is hope for the reef?
The cause of the Great Barrier Reef's apparent death is mass bleaching. Coral gets it's colour and nutrients from the algae that live on it. The algae produce sugars when they photosynthesise, which then nourish the coral. However, high temperatures such as those caused by climate change cause the algae to produce an amount of oxygen that is dangerous for the corals. They can only survive if they rid themselves of the algae and will die in a few months if it is not replaced. When the algae is gone, the coral takes on the characteristic bleached white colour.
There have been several mass bleaching occurrences since the first one in 1981 and there have also been many campaigns to save the reef, an area that it larger than the UK and rich in biodiversity. Most of the reef has been affected by the bleaching, but not all of it is dead (although about 25% of it is.) It is this fact and also research that has shown that some corals can adapt that, that scientists present as a ray of hope for the World Heritage Site. The remaining reef may recover. But with climate change, it is true that the reef will continue to be in danger, along with many other environments around the world. What is also not helping, according to Kim Cobb, a Georgia Tech coral reef expert, are the headlines that followed the publication of the Outside Online article. Oliver Milman quotes her in his article on the Guardian website, stating that this "...doomsday approach to climate change... misinforms the public." She believes that this type of journalism will cause people to give up and not work to help the reef, believing the fight to be over. Luckily, the message has been received and things are being done. The Express announced yesterday that an emergency summit will be held over the next few weeks in a bid to save the reef. There is also plenty that the public in general can do. Fight For The Reef is an Australian campaign dedicated to saving the site. The campaign is partnered with WWF and MCS Australia and in recent years, has stopped port expansions and spoil dumping among other things. It hosts local events and lobbies the government for change. You can find their website below if you want to check them out and support them.
For those who are not local to Australia, there is plenty that we can all do to save the reef - simply by reducing our impact on the planet. Anything that we can do each day to help fight climate change will be a step towards protecting the reef and many other vulnerable sites around the world. As for the future of the Great Barrier Reef, it still seems to be very much in the balance. So for now, all we can do is our best to reduce our carbon emissions - and keep our fingers crossed that the summit will create and carry out a successful rescue plan.
Outside Online: Great Barrier Reef Obituary- https://www.outsideonline.com/2112086/obituary-great-barrier-reef-25-million-bc-2016
The Guardian Article: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/14/great-barrier-reef-severe-stress-not-dead-yet
The Express Article: http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/721519/Great-Barrier-Reef-DEAD-2016-unesco-international-coral-reef-management
Fight For The Reef: https://fightforthereef.org.au/
Photo Credit: http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?262692/Coral-bleaching-renews-concerns-for-Great-Barrier-Reef