Great Barrier Reef Faces Irreversible Damage

great barrier reef

According to leading reef experts, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, will be irreversibly damaged by climate change by the year 2030 unless immediate action is taken. In their report, Lights Out for the Reef, author Selina Ward and contributor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg claim that the leading causes of the deterioration of the reef are carbon emissions and global warming. The report was released in conjunction with the Earth Hour campaign in an effort to drum up support and elicit a legitimate commitment to lower carbon emissions.

The Earth Hour campaign is a global movement to protect the environment. Each year, toward the end of March, Earth Hour brings communities together from across the globe to celebrate their commitment to the planet by shutting off the lights for an hour. This year’s event will be held in 152 countries and takes place on March 29, from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Its cause this year is helping to preserve the Great Barrier Reef.

Hoegh-Guldberg, who is a professor of marine science at the University of Queensland, says that about half of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral coverage has weakened or eroded since the 1980’s as a result of increased carbon dioxide, invasive species disrupting the ecosystem, and lower water quality due to chemical contamination from farming. But he says climate change is quickly taking over as the main threat against the reef.

The rising temperature of the oceans is causing coral bleaching, which is when coral expels the algae living in its tissues causing the coral to turn white. Coral bleaching was an unknown phenomenon before 1979. As the temperature rises and the coral bleaches, it becomes more susceptible to disease. Whereas bacteria can be a benefit to healthy coral, in warmer waters it has a negative effect, and this is rapidly increasing.

In Lights Out for the Reef, Ward, a coral biologist at the University of Queensland, stresses the potential ecological and economic ramifications of a diminishing reef. If global warming continues to the point where the Great Barrier Reef is irreversibly damaged, the $6 billion dollar tourism industry and 63,000 jobs it provides will take a lethal hit. The reef also serves as a wave barrier, and without it, a number of islands run the risk of severe flooding.

Unfortunately, Australia’s new conservative government is not helping matters. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has put the country’s environment at further risk for the sake of growing business. He has green lit the expansion of a coal port in Brisbane that will dump tons of silt in the ocean where there is no coral, but Ward warns that the silt can move out to the reef and smother the coral. Abbott also plans on repurposing a portion of the rain forest in Tasmania for logging, a portion that is protected under World Heritage. And recently Abbott’s shark cull policy initiated in Western Australia to keep beach tourism stable has drawn protests from conservationists.

Talk of dumping silt on the Great Barrier Reef is already causing waves in the tourism industry. Tony Baker, the managing director of Quicksilver dive boats, which is the one of the largest tour operators on the Great Barrier Reef, says that the negative publicity and potential harm to the reef is already hurting business. If the threat of irreversible damage to the Great Barrier Reef in the near future does not turn the tide in favor of conservation, the tourism industry will be in serious danger and a natural wonder will be lost.

By David Tulis


Sydney Morning Herald

Daily Mail

NY Times

Earth Hour

Ocean Service

Lights Out for the Reef