Environment

Is the Great Barrier Reef really dead?

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Great Barrier Reef

Image: Flickr

Outside made some waves recently when it posted an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef on its website. The piece stated that the Great Barrier Reef died as a result of massive coral bleaching and read, “No one knows if a serious effort could have saved the reef, but it is clear that no such effort was made.”

The article raised some extremely necessary awareness of the existential threat the Great Barrier Reef is under. The largest living structure in the world and the only organism that can be seen from space, the Great Barrier Reef is a widely recognized natural wonder of the world.

Scientists have argued that pronouncing it dead was probably a little premature. The Reef is a living being composed of millions of smaller organisms, and like all living things, it is adaptable.

And while the obituary was well-meaning, the fact that it went viral as quickly as it did has many climate scientists concerned. They worry that those who see the post will take it at face value and decide that there is no hope trying to save the Reef since it is already dead.

Again, the reef is not dead. There is still time to save it. At the same time, we shouldn’t take that as an excuse for inaction because the reef still has time.

The Great Barrier Reef is not dead, but it is dying.

The reality is, however, that the Reef faces the sort of threat that few would have anticipated. The culprit is largely climate change. Changing sea temperature is producing the coral bleaching that the Outside online piece referenced. The coral in the Great Barrier Reef depends on algae for nutrition. Bleaching occurs when the algae that protect the reef from damage and disease is driven off by warming temperatures and as a result, the Coral becomes brittle, white, and weak.

Huge patches of the reef have been bleached, revealing the skeletal remains and offering a stark reminder of how badly the reef needs help. Current estimates are that 93% of the Reef has suffered bleaching.

The problem with efforts to save the Reef is that they largely depend on fixing the larger issue of climate change that has put the reef in the position it’s in. And as we all know, fixing climate change is probably one of the most intractable issues of our time.

It is unlikely that any serious change will occur on that front within a soon enough time frame to save the Reef. Without serious efforts to restore the delicate balance that life in the Reef depends on, what is left of it will soon die.

So is the Great Barrier Reef really dead? No, but it will be soon without our help.

Find out how to save the Great Barrier Reef no matter where you are. Get a close up look of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef here.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.