Outside Magazine inaccurately pronounced the Great Barrier Reef dead in October 2016. The article quickly spread throughout social media, compelling many to speak in somber tones of the atrocity that was the reef’s death. But as new articles surfaced clarifying that the Barrier Reef was not in fact dead, this promising wave of environmental interest came to a sudden halt.
The severely damaged reef soon drifted to the back of our minds, quite similar to a lazy teenager choosing to ignore the dishes in the sink – acting only when faced with direct consequences.
As a result of this negligence the Great Barrier Reef faces imminent death, and without preemptive measures, scientists estimate possible extinction by 2050.
An environmental crisis
We can not become complacent simply because it is not dead; the Great Barrier Reef remains in dire need of help. Ninety-three percent of the coral reef has been affected by bleaching – the first step toward coral death. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 22 percent of the coral reef has already been pronounced dead, with more sections expected to die later this year.
What was once a reef filled with vibrant color and beauty has, in some sections, grown pale and lifeless, abandoned by all previously present forms of sea life. Though not impossible for coral to heal, the continued rise in ocean temperature has made it increasingly difficult to do so.
Since the early 1900s, ocean temperatures have risen about two and half degrees Fahrenheit. With the current wave of U.S. environmental rollbacks, the trend in temperature is likely to continue on its current path. This lack of focus on minimizing carbon emissions is expected to continue to warm the earth and its oceans.
Accustomed to a limited temperature range, coral reacts negatively when exposed to an increase in heat. With a rise in temperature, coral expels the algae that inhabits it, giving it a bleached appearance. This algae serves as their prime source of food and energy. Unless temperatures fall back to a manageable state, the coral will die of starvation.
If measures are not taken to combat rising temperatures, our ocean’s coral will starve to death.
But the Great Barrier Reef is not the only example. It merely stands as a figurehead for other mass coral bleachings across our oceans and one that better publicizes this major issue.
Other areas around the world are the same, if not worse. The remote Pacific island of Kiritimati is encompassed by miles of coral graveyard; 85 percent of its coral reefs have been bleached to death. Even in our home state of Hawai‘i, there are reports of coral bleaching on Maui, the Big Island and in beautiful Hanauma Bay on O‘ahu.
Not just temperature
Unfortunately, increasing ocean temperature is not the only danger to the Great Barrier Reef. India’s Adani Group has proposed the construction of the Carmichael Coal Mine, a 125 square mile thermal coal mine, to be built a mere 250 miles from the Great Barrier Reef in central Queensland.
Upon construction, around 5 meters of mud will be dug up in the creation of ports and dumped in the middle of the reef, suffocating much of the coral and sea-life. Additionally, smoke emitted from the factory itself will warm the reef’s waters, increasing a temperature that already is causing tremendous strain on coral.
The construction and activity of this facility will greatly accelerate the process of coral bleaching and therefore cannot be allowed to transpire. If killed — the reef, known by many to be the largest living structure on Earth — could be the victim of one of the greatest crimes against nature ever committed by humanity.
If someone was lying on the street, wounded and bleeding out — unable to help themselves — would you let them die?
What if it was more than just a person, but a diverse society: what if your whole country lay in front of you? Would you turn away and attempt to remain ignorant of it all?
That is what we are doing now, letting a miraculous entity — an ecosystem of unparalleled diversity — be eliminated from our planet. The Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world are in grave danger.
If we continue on our current path, future generations will not be able to experience this natural wonder. Speak out and spread the word, do not be content with the way things are.