In the past 27 years, it is believed that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral, mainly caused by a deadly combination of crown-of-thorns starfish, storm damage and coral bleaching. Storm damage accounted for 48% of the coral loss in the past 27 years, bleaching caused 10% and crown-of-thorns starfish were responsible for 42%.
Unfortunately storms and coral bleaching (2 out of the 3 main causes) are beyond our control for immediate action, however the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has increased efforts to reduce crown-of-thorns numbers which is vital to the reef’s future. AIMS suspect if the reef’s decline continues at its present rate, its coral will halve again within the next 10 years.
The AIMS investigation reveals coral loss is uneven along the 2300km long reef, with the far north still relatively healthy. Tropical cyclones have caused damage to the central and southern parts of the reef, coral bleaching have caused damage to the northern and central parts and population explosions of the coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish have affected coral populations along the length of the reef.
AIMS aim to control the starfish by concentrating on its susceptibility to disease and introduction of a pathogen which would spread naturally among its population. You can follow the research here.
This is devastating news for me, as an Australian and as one who has snorkeled and scuba dived in the Barrier Reef before. The loss of all the colourful fish and corals that can be seen from above through the clear turquoise water, would be a great loss to the Queenslander, all Australians and Australian tourism at that.
So what can we do to help?
Well, not much in terms of the storms and coral bleaching, but those are not the only threats to the Great Barrier Reef.
Over the last 150 years, and continuing with no forseeable future, the Great Barrier Reef has been under pressure – from fishing, coastal development, land-based pollution and overuse.
Currently, there is one of the largest dredging project underway, making way for massive new coal seam gas export facilities, in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This is also threatening its status as a World Heritage Site, thus becoming less and less protected for the years to come.
The dredging activities have led to an increase in deaths of endangered marine wildlife, washed up dead near Gladstone, illnesses in the fishermen and their families and threatening the billions of dollars of economic activity it brings in every year and the support of tens of thousands of jobs in tourism and the fishing industry.
GetUp! is running a campaign to get the Australian government to halt all industrial development activity in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and surrounds, and not to approve any major coastal developments until someone knows what to do with sustaining the natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
WWF is also helping by educating fishermen on sustainable fishing practices and farmers to reduce the pollution run-off.
It may not be much, but every little bit helps.
Make your voice count. I have.
(Or if you’re not going to do anything about the problem, make sure you get your arse down under and experience the Great Barrier Reef before it’s well and truly dead. It might just help to change your mind.)