The endangering of the Great Barrier Reef

Lea Heming

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Autralias’ Great Barrier Reef is a Bullet Point on many peoples’ Bucket lists. Breathtaking beauty, 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and hundreds of different animal species. Experiences like scuba diving, helicopter tours, cruise ship tours, whale watching and swimming with dolphins make the Reef definitely worth a visit. The Reef is even visible from space and includes beautiful islands like Whitsunday Islands or Brampton Island. The Circular took a look at the effects of Coral Bleaching on this wonder of nature.

The Reef

The Great Barrier Reef covers an area of 344.400 km²  and is 2300 km long. This are is roughly as big as Germany, Italy, Japan or Malaysia. The Reef can be seen from outer space and is the worlds biggest single structure made by living organisms. It includes over

  • 3000 individual reefs
  • 600 continental islands
  • 1625 types of fish
  • 133 varies of sharks and rays
  • 600 types of soft and hard corals.

Climate Change and Coral Bleaching

We all know by now, that our climate is undergoing big changes in the average weather conditions and the frequency of extreme weather events. The global warming affects especially Corals, that are thermally very sensitive. Higher water surface temperatures cause the corals to bleach during the summer months. Until now, the Great Barrier Reef experienced two major bleaching events. In the Summers of 1998 and 2002, 42% and 54% of the Reefs were affected. The third one is still ongoing since 2015.

Bleached Corals with Damselfish
Bleached Corals with Damselfish – Photo by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

But what exactly is Coral Bleaching? The small, Colorful algae Zooxanthellae, love inside of corals and provide them with their beautiful Color and primary supply of energy. These Algae die if the sea temperature is to high. This process is called Coral Bleaching. The Corals become transparent and due to this, they can die. If however, temperatures return to normal levels, corals can regain the algae. Their Growth however is still likely to be decreased.

The good news

In November this year, scientist successfully accelerated the formation of new coral colonies on small areas in the Reef by using ‘baby corals’. The pilot project is the first one to successfully re-establish a population of corals directly on the reef. Thanks to the success of the project that is funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Government of Australia is investing to advance the reseeding research.

Also, on some parts of the reef, scientist were able to observe a new growth of Corals in certain parts of the Reef. This recovery is taking place way earlier than expected.

However, it is still clear, that through the global warming, the Great Barrier Reef is still in Danger. Even the new discovered tactic using ‘baby corals’ is not able to save the Reef on it’s own. So here is what you can do:

Taking action

Many organisations like greenpeace, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Fight for our Reef call everyone to take action and save the reef. Additionally to the Coral bleaching and the problematic of global warming, the overfishing and industrial expansion are serious threats to the reefs. At the Homepage of Fight for our Reef, you can get all the information and latest news on the Great Barrier Reef Protection Campaign and sign up for it.

Dead Corals Lizard Island
Dead Corals Lizard Island – Photo by The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview / Richard Vevers

However,  it is clear, if we do not stop global warming, the Great Barrier Reef will not survive. The Reef is just one example of many, why we need to take action immediately instead of making plans for the next decade.

However,  it is clear, if we do not stop global warming, the Great Barrier Reef will not survive. The Reef is just one example of many, why we need to take action immediately instead of making plans for the next decade.

Unesco did not place the Great Barrier Reef on its List of World Heritage Sites “in danger”. This would have helped to get access to funds to help saving the Reef. Do you think, regarding the threats, that this was the right decision?



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Lea Heming

  • Sunniva Batalden

    Definitely, from what you’re saying, they deserve to be on that list.

    • I think so too. Some claim, that the lobbying of the Australian Government is the Reason for Unisco not putting the Reef on the List.