The Great Barrier Reef on Its Last Leg?

Eli Hopper, Layout Editor

The colorful contents of the ocean have captivated mankind for as long as anyone can remember. Sadly, The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most significant coral reefs in existence, may not be around for much longer.

Coral reefs are important, diverse underwater ecosystems. Unfortunately, they are easily damaged — especially because of our effect on the environment. Global warming has been an issue for a while now, and it’s starting to take more and more of a toll on our world, especially in our oceans. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 90% of excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is stored in the ocean. This warming causes a process called coral bleaching to occur at a more frequent rate. Coral bleaching occurs when it is too warm, where reefs expel the zooxanthellae (or algae) living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. In some cases, it is possible for a reef to recover from bleaching as the oceans grow colder with the seasons, but even then, reproductive capacity is reduced, which leads to long-term damage for coral ecosystems.

Terry Hughes, a distinguished Professor and long-time researcher of the Great Barrier Reef, shares his findings in multiple interviews. He explains the significance of the recent bleaching: that many occurrences have taken place very close together, leaving no time for any manner of proper recovery. Hughes also shares that in the Northern areas of the Great Barrier Reef, around two-thirds of the coral population was lost because of coral bleaching. The majority of available information seems to conclude that the reef is dying, if not already dead. Recent findings, however, might bring a glimmer of hope to the situation.

Gaskell’s Discovery

Marine biologist Johnny Gaskell has recently discovered a large, mysterious blue cavity in the Great Barrier Reef. After diving into it, he found a large number of thriving coral colonies. Among these colonies was a Birdsnest Coral and a Staghorn Coral — both of which are large in size and delicate in configuration. The remarkably good health of these colonies is leaving everyone speechless.

We know what’s happening; our world is being affected by global warming, the oceans especially. And while our understanding of what to do is not yet complete, we have an idea of the things we can do to prevent further damage to our environment and the subsequent damage to the Great Barrier Reef. These things include reducing fossil fuel usage, planting trees, reducing waste, and conserving water. It’s a good start, and all we can do is try.