The Beauty and Its Beast

Anika Roller - 1A Environmental
Posted on: October 23, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article published announcing the death of one of Earth’s wonders. The 1,430-mile-long ecosystem, what used to be the largest living being on our planet, bordering hundreds of islands, and containing over 600 types of coral. The death of the Great Barrier Reef.

Thankfully, this article was slightly incorrect in its claims, as it’s not dead – it’s just dying at a ridiculously fast rate.

This reef, on the coast of Australia, is dying so quickly due to a process called coral bleaching. Visually, we can see this change as the coral goes from a healthy brown to an unhealthy white colour. The source of this is climate change: specifically, bleaching happens when the temperature of the water goes anywhere from 1.8°F to 3.6°F above average. Such unnaturally high temperatures arise from 2 things –El Niño, a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures linked to large-scale ocean temperatures, and global warming.

When the temperature is too high, the algae within the coral escapes into the water. When this release of algae happens, the coral’s brown pigment disappears. Without colour the coral become transparent, with their skeletons visible. Unfortunately, coral depends on the algae for energy, so it will die if temperatures do not return to normal fast enough.

The Great Barrier Reef has 3 sectors: Northern, Central, and Southern, and one was thoroughly checked this past summer to see how bad the bleaching is. In the Southern sector, 25% of is not bleached and in the Central sector, 10% is untouched by the bleaching. Although these numbers do not look too good, it may not seem significant enough for us to realize that something bad is happening on the coast of Australia. However only 1% of the Northern sector remains unbleached . This is seemingly a point of no return – we have pushed the environment to a place from which it cannot recover.

The only way the reef will survive is if climate change slows down. Bleaching takes decades to recover from when there is no pollution involved, but with the wasteful ways of society, it may in fact be too late.

We all recognize that the Great Barrier Reef was a beautiful treasure of this planet and we are very close to losing it. We need to learn from this mistake and be proactive in preventing environmental tragedies. Rather than tweeting about how we need to be better to our planet and then continue living life the same as before, or sharing an informative Facebook video then forgetting about it, we must come together and change our ways. It’s time to make an active effort to help the environment.