The Great Barrier Reef might be on its final stage due to the destruction caused by climate change. According to Australia’s Climate Council, the loss of coral reefs could cost about $1 trillion.
The longest global coral bleaching event on record started on 2014, affecting some reefs on consecutive years. According to Lesly Hughes, from the Australian Climate Council, this should be a wake-up call for the entire world about the necessity to do something about climate change. She also said that there was a false dichotomy in public debate on how some put the environment against the economy.
“The extraordinary devastation being experienced on the Great Barrier Reef is due to the warming of our oceans, driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas,” Hughes said. “It would have been virtually impossible for this to have occurred without climate change,” said Lesly.
World’s natural wonder might be near to an end due to climate change
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven great natural wonders of the world. It is also known to be the largest living being on Earth. Its size is about Italy’s, and it can be seen from the space. However, its vitality and greatness continue to be challenged by climate change and the warming ocean temperatures.
Since the 80’s, scientists have kept track of the changes suffered by the Great Barrier Reef. They have noticed that the occurrence, the impact and the severity of the bleaching events in the Reef continue to increase mainly due to the warming ocean temperatures, and the pollutant that come from industries and agriculture.
Last year, the Great Barrier Reef suffered a widespread bleaching event that damaged 95 percent of the northern third. This year, having almost no time to recover, the Reef has also been affected in its middle region.
The Great Barrier Reef is an incredibly fragile ecosystem which is also home to millions of endemic species that are threatened by the global climate change too. According to a recent aerial survey, out of 5,000 miles of reef, 932 miles have been bleached, which is about the 20 percent of the reef. As well, the reef was recently affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which tore apart an area of the reef that had escaped from the bleaching. Scientists are worried that the Great Barrier Reef might be in its terminal phase.
According to a new study by the Australia’s ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, two-thirds of the Reef is in a delicate condition. They said that the severity of the event is terrifying.
Why are the warming sea temperatures affecting the Great Coral Reef?
When the sea temperatures are too warm, there is an adverse change in the symbiotic relationship between the corals and the zooxanthellae, which are algae that live in the coral and that provide nutrients and oxygen for them.
In return, the corals give the algae a home; a save environment with the needed nutrients for photosynthesis. However, when the water is too warm, the zooxanthellae produces certain toxins that force the coral to eject the algae.
“A coral is a partnership between an animal – which is what builds the skeleton and constructs the reefs that you see – and the tiny one-celled algae or plants which live inside it. Hot temperatures cause that relationship to become toxic.” Said ARC Center’s, Sean Connolly.
The Great Barrier Reef has experienced serious bleaching events in 1998, 2002, 2014 and 2016 and now in 2017. It takes about a decade for the corals to recover, but with continuous bleaching events, their capacity to improve is limited.
The Disappearance of the Great Barrier Reef will have a great impact on Australia’s economy
Australia’s Government has put a lot of effort to preserve the Great Barrier Reef in the last years, not only to prevent an environmental catastrophe but also because of the severe economic impact that the disappearance of the Great Barrier Reef would have. This natural wonder is one of Australia’s greatest financial assets, producing more than $7 billion a year for Australia’s economy. As well, it supports livelihoods of around 700,000 people. The Great Barrier Reef, therefore, foments tourism and jobs.
However, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, published a study saying that Australia must put more efforts in reducing greenhouse emissions to reduce the impact it has on the Great Barrier Reef. According to Hoegh-Guldberg, corals around the world support 500 million people across 50 nations.
According to the Australia’s Research Council, the emissions grew by 0.8 percent in the country last year. The Council said that only the southern third of the reef remains unharmed. The Australian Government’s efforts have been summed up in a long-term plan until 2050. They spend about $200 million yearly to protect the reef. Recently they have offered incentives to farmers who reduce the nitrogen and sediment run-off into the reef. According to the environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, the government continues to work with local communities to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef.