The Great Barrier Reef is unique to Australia and the world. The Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site on the North Eastern coast of Australia; is well-known as the world’s largest coral reef and is visible from outer space. When we visited family recently in Australia we made a special trip to Cairns as we had never been there and I really wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef before perhaps it changed forever. What is happening to this remarkable undersea world which is home to so many species of fish and corals.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
The Great Barrier Reef as well as a World Heritage Site is also a marine park . It is about 2300 kilometres long and stretches along the northern Queensland Coast of Australia. It is home to countless species of colourful fish, molluscs and starfish; plus turtles, dolphins, whales and sharks. It consists of thousands of reefs and small islands some of which are protected such as, Osprey, Lizard and Raine Islands. The reef has the most incredible biodiversity from the tiniest corals to massive 40 ton humpback whales which migrate to this region each year to calve. The whales number in the tens of thousands.
Changes to the Coral Reef
There are many influences affecting the coral. In some areas the reef is bleaching and some wildlife is at risk. There has been a 27–year decline of coral on the Great Barrier Reef with estimates that as much as half the reef has gone. This has been attributed to :
1. Tropical storms and extreme weather impact the reef greatly and cause damage. “Between 1995 and 2009, approximately 34 per cent of all coral mortality recorded in the Great Barrier Reef Long Term Monitoring Program” was due to severe weather.
2. Crown-of-thorn starfish are a major problem for the reef coral; now they can be found in large numbers from Cairns north but are slowly moving south.
3. Severe bleaching of coral. These relatively new phenomena occurred in 1982, 1998, 2002 & 2006
What is Bleaching
A change in the reef is the bleaching of coral with these incidences apparently increasing over the past 20 to 40 years. Bleached coral is not dead […] “coral have been known to recover. If the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, coral eventually dies” . The major reasons for coral bleaching seem to be:
“As the climate changes, coral bleaching is predicted to become more frequent and severe. Sea temperature increases and coral stress from other impacts may increase corals’ vulnerability to bleaching”
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Another reason for the changing coral is a result of pollutants affecting water quality:
“Increased use of nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants on the land result in more of these entering waterways and the Great Barrier Reef. The resulting decline in water quality can affect corals, seagrass and other important habitats as well as the marine animals they support, while also having a detrimental affect on tourism and fishing industries.”
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
A recent concern has been the approval of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland which will be mining and shipping large amounts of coal to India initially through the pristine Great Barrier Reef.
What is being done
- Government programs are in place to improve ground water run off from sugar cane farms and prevent pesticides, and other pollutants, from entering the rivers and flowing into the ocean. The video “Connected by Water” outlines what is being done by farmers to recycle farm water and improve water quality of rivers.
- What the Australian Department of Environment is doing
- Australia has permanently banned the disposal of port related capital dredge material in the entire World Heritage Area
- Ship wrecks in the area are being removed to improve the reef
- Government supplied funding to control crown-of-thorns starfish, to further protect the Reef’s corals
- Tough new penalties against poaching will give extra protection for turtles and dugongs
- Increased funding to lessen marine debris such as The Great Barrier Reef Clean Up
What is Marine Debris?
“Marine debris is rubbish or litter that finds its way into the marine environment. Plastic is the most common type of marine debris found on beaches in the Great Barrier Reef. This is consistent with worldwide studies which have found plastics make up 50 to 90 percent of the number of all debris items recorded.” ~ GBR Marine Park Authority
There is a large variety of fish, turtles and corals to view through a glass bottom boat, snorkeling or by diving. As the rich coloured corals are near the surface of the ocean, snorkeling is a great way to view the reefs. The waters are crystal clear and inviting.
The 2300 Km long Great Barrier Reef is the world’s #1 tourist destination; an amazing and precious part of our ocean with a rare and fragile ecosystem. The Great Barrier Reef is of international importance; for scientific research, its diverse ecosystem and for its spectacular natural beauty – what happens here affects us all.
Links and References:
- The GBR and the environment
- Video: The Fitzroy River Delta – guardian of the Great Barrier Reef
- History of the crown of thorn outbreaks
- Dugongs of the coral reef
- IUCN information on Dugongs listed as Vulnerable
- World Wildlife fund Saving the natural world oceans
- Lizard Island Research Station
- Raine Island Green Sea turtles and Boobies
- More facts about the Great Barrier Reef from GBR Marine Park Authority
- Tourism, recreation and fisheries all contribute to the annual multi billion dollar value of the reef
- Coral bleaching is also a concern in Florida
- Where to see nesting turtles
- Mangroves of Australia
- This region was Chartered by Captain James Cook in 1770
- The sugar cane industry covers 380,000 hectares, employs 16,000 and produces $2 billion exports per annum