The Great Barrier Reef Is In Grave Danger
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The Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Queensland, Australia and stretches an incredible 1,500 miles. This magnificent underwater world is home to thousands of reefs with over 600 different species of coral and tens of thousands of marine life. After 25 million years, the largest living ecosystem in the world was pronounced dead this morning by scientists. Though this is a slight exaggeration, scientists have concluded that about 22% of the reef is dead and coral bleaching is to blame, which has already affected 93% of the reef.
Coral bleaching is environmental stress on symbiotic relationships between the reef and the algae and occurs when sediments, harmful chemicals, freshwater, and high or low water temperatures are exposed to the reef. The algae contain protozoans, called zooxanthellae, which give each coral its color. This stress causes corals to release their zooxanthellae, which will cause the coral to turn white in color and appear “bleached”. Without the algae, the coral will inevitably die.
Regrettably, there is little chance that the reef will make a recovery. Coral takes an average of ten years to recover, not including possible delays from water pollution or other environmental impacts. Since the reef is already at this stage, scientists are expecting a ripple effect that will lead to the ecosystem’s downfall: coral bleaching leads to less reef production which leads to a mass exodus of aquatic life and will in turn cause the collapse of the Great Barrier Reef.
This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Australia and visit the Great Barrier Reef while in Cairns. During the boat ride, one of the marine biologists gave us a presentation on the basics of the reef and what has been affecting it over the years. Among the reasons were coral bleaching, water pollution, and human destruction—all potentially avoidable issues. Just in the small section where we could snorkel, I saw hundreds of different marine species and dozens of varieties of coral, each one similar and yet nothing alike at all. It’s hard to imagine that if no changes are made, in just a few short years, this gorgeous, vast ecosystem will be diminished.
Scientists may have overstepped their bounds by declaring the reef officially “dead”, but it got everyone on the internet talking. These days, humans take everything for granted—don’t make that mistake twice. Hopefully this will be the wakeup call that the world needs in order to start making changes so that we don’t lose this beautiful ecosystem.