The ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies released results of an expansive aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef this Sunday. The results have left researchers in shock with the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Prof. Terry Hughes appealing to the masses through twitter to take prompt action for saving the reef from complete destruction.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. It is composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching over 2,300 kilometers over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometers. The reef is located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland in Australia. It is a natural wonder. It can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by tiny living organisms called reef polyps. It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
The Great Barrier Reef has suffered massive bleaching many times in the past 19 years. But these events did not do much harm to it because the reef always had several years to recover from an event before a successive event happened. But this time the bleaching has occurred for two years in a row, first in 2016 and again this year which has affected two-thirds of the reef! With this sudden recurrence of bleaching first, due to El Nino conditions and now due to global warming, the reef does not have ample time to recover and will most certainly be destroyed, researchers opine.
Bleaching of the reef is basically the coral expelling the algae that live inside the coral’s tissue. This alga is responsible for the reef’s vibrant colors. When water temperature rises and algae are expelled from the coral due to stress, the coral is left with a bleached white color due to calcification. Full recovery of bleached coral takes a very long time.
According to Dr. James Kerry, a senior research officer at the ARC, “It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest-growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs damaged in 2016.”
Despite the massive devastation of the world heritage site, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in 2015 decided NOT to put the Great Barrier Reef on its “in danger” list. This decision might have to be reconsidered keeping the present condition of the reef in view.
Unless temperature drops, massive global warming is affecting us and other living organisms equally, with some suffering more damage than others. Due to its vast biodiversity, the Great Barrier Reef attracts throngs of tourists and researchers alike especially scuba divers. It has been dubbed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The reef is an important part of culture and spirituality for Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. Tourism is an important economic activity for the region.
The recent cyclone Debbie that hit the Australian region in March this year has also caused considerable damage to the healthy parts of the reef.