According to marine scientists, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of an ecosystem collapse. As much as 80 percent of the Queensland reef is bleached, with other parts still bleaching. What's more, fish populations are fast disappearing.
The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is the largest coral reef system in the world. It is composed of nearly 3,000 individual reefs, and stretches for 1,400 miles. The Great Barrier Reef is so big, it can be seen from outer space. The structure is composed and built by billions of tiny living organisms, known as coral polyps. Part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but the rest of it faces grim environmental pressure. The vanishing Great Barrier Reef is considered by many people to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Most people are unaware that coral is a kind of animal. More specifically, billions of tiny organisms. Bleaching is what happens when coral dies. Bleaching is caused by warming sea water. The warmer water causes coral to cool itself by releasing algae. When the coral is unable to cool down, it dies. When coral dies, it turns white. The dead coral then attracts dark algae, which makes it appear brown. The dark algae block the fish from food and shelter. This causes them to either die or go somewhere else. This is all caused by climate change. Other threats to the reef include fishing, mining, and tourism. It is estimated that the reef has lost more than half its coral cover since 1985.
In November of 2014, when Google launched its underwater street view of the Great Barrier Reef, it was realized that the coral bleaching problem was even worse than the marine scientists had previously thought. Reefs cannot grow very quickly, only increasing in diameter by just over an inch annually. In height, coral can grow anywhere from a third of an inch up to almost 10 inches per year. Coral can grow at depths of up to 500 feet, and cannot grow above sea level.
The Australian government is now under fire for failing to protect the Great Barrier reef from climate change, as it remains one of the world's biggest tourist attractions. However, the Australian government does extract fossil fuels and approve mining contracts, which is counterproductive to saving the reefs. This is despite all the public support in favor of conservation. The Australian government can't do both, so it chooses financial gain over conservation. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a lot of flack over this issue. His appointed minister for the environment, Josh Frydenberg, seems to believe that coal can pull poor people out of poverty.
Says Rhodes scholar and University of Queensland professor Hugh Possingham, “My view is Australia is a filthy, filthy, filthy rich country. If we can't make a small sacrifice, I don't see why people in Bulgaria, Brazil, or Columbia – people who enjoy a far lower standard of living than we do – should do it.”
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