The fate of the Great Barrier Reef

coral bleaching great barrier reef

Scoring a place as runner up in UNSW’s Bragg Writing Prize is Carol Ge’s portrait of the delicate Great Barrier Reef. Carol’s essay is about the devastating effects climate change has on the reef, namely coral bleaching. Read below for an eye-opening look at what Carol has discovered about the future of our Great Barrier Reef.

The fate of the Great Barrier Reef

There were seven, and then there were six. A children’s nursery rhyme or a description of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven great natural wonders?

Vast watery shades of blue, as endless as the sky. Coral of magnificent shapes and sizes line the sea floor. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef. One of the seven great wonders of the natural world. Cool water envelops the beach, washing away rounded sand grains, shaped by endless tides and currents. Fish in brilliant hues of orange and yellow swim by, while the anemone sway to the currents. A home to thousands of unique Australian marine species. A true Australian beauty. Thriving through hundreds of years of survival. Underneath the surface of the water, time seems eternal.

But time is running out for the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate change is a significant concern in society, and with increasing population, overexploitation, and growing demand for resources, today’s society is facing great changes every day, and sustainability is becoming the number one overarching issue for future generations. The Great Barrier Reef is among countless natural habitats which are rapidly deteriorating, caused primarily by climate change. Climate change has led to many issues affecting the reef, such as rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and the increased severity of cyclones. High sea temperatures in particular have caused fast bleaching of coral in the Great Barrier Reef. The stressed coral expels the symbiotic algae living inside its tissue, which results in the drastic white colour of bleached coral. This bleached coral does not survive if the stress continues through a long period, and the algae does not return. Shockingly, 93% of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to some degree, according to the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. Ocean acidification is another issue the reef is facing, as the absorption of carbon dioxide changes the chemistry of sea water, making the water more acidic. This weakens the bone structure of the coral. Additionally, tropical cyclones also unleash mass amounts of physical damage to the reef and its structure, especially as the severity of cyclones has been increasing due to climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is currently in peril, the reef is not predicted to live past 2100, and the future of the Reef is in the hands of us.

Both the action and support of every individual towards this cause, and new innovative scientific research is crucial to helping the current condition of the reef. A team of Australian scientists at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have been developing a method which could possibly help save the reef. While ‘cloud brightening’, sounds farfetched, it may be the most plausible way to reduce the effects of climate change on the reef, namely coral bleaching. Cloud brightening involves making clouds larger and more reflective, to cool the ocean below. Reducing heat in the ocean, and decreasing the sea temperature during the hottest months of the year could prevent a substantial amount of coral bleaching. The idea of cloud brightening was previously considered for reducing the effects of global warming, but has never been considered for the Great Barrier Reef. Cloud brightening works by spraying a mist of saltwater throughout the air, which increases the amount of smaller droplets in the clouds. This causes the clouds to reflect more light back into space, known as the Twomey effect, and thus cool the area.

Although technology such as cloud brightening is exciting and would be beneficial to the condition of the reef, it is a temporary method, which will only buy the reef time. Cloud brightening or other technology cannot solve the main issue the reef is facing, climate change. Unless global greenhouse gas emissions are cut quickly, and action is taken, the reef will be destroyed.

The actions of every individual can shape the fate of the reef, and benefit the environment. Whether this be supporting conservation groups or educating others about climate change and the reef. It could include being environmentally friendly, by reducing carbon emissions and taking alternate methods of transport or planting trees. Alternatively, it could include saving energy, by using energy efficient appliances or using renewable sources of energy such as solar panels. Using environmentally friendly products, such as natural fertilisers or reusable shopping bags, could also contribute to helping. Supporting this cause could help save the Barrier Reef and improve the sustainability of the planet.

The reef is a priceless natural wonder of the world, and it is ultimately up to us to save our Great Barrier Reef.

Liked this? Read Sam Jones’ winning entry and Ebony Wallin’s runner up entry.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs


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