About the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, is the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystem spreading over an area of 300,000 square kilometers approximately. Composed of around 900 islands, the reef is located off the north-east coast of the Australian continent in the Coral Sea.
The Great Barrier Reef was declared as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1981.This coral reef is an underwater structure made of Calcium Carbonate secreted by tiny marine organisms called coral polyps.
Ecology of the reef
What sets it apart is its rich and varied marine biodiversity. The reef is home to many threatened and endangered species, some of which are endemic to the reef. Over 1500 fish species dwell in the reef waters including certain unique ones like snapper, red bass, clownfish, etc. 17 sea snake species are known to exist here while more than 200 bird species come to the reef area to nest. Often, they arrive here for breeding purpose. The following 6 turtle species come to warm reef waters especially for breeding:
- Green sea turtle
- Leatherback sea turtle
- Hawksbill turtle
- Flatback turtle
- Loggerhead sea turtle
- Olive Ridley
Over 2000 plant species are also known to exist in the area. The reef system also has an abundance of dugongs, dolphins, molluscs, saltwater crocodiles, etc.
Further details and news can be found fromt he Australian Government Environmental website here.
The rich biodiversity and the clear waters of the barrier reef area make it a major attraction for tourists all over the world. In fact, the tourism industry thriving there employs over 60,000 local people and is said to contribute around 5 billion Australian dollars annually. Scuba diving and snorkeling have developed as the most popular tourist activities.
However, many man-made activities threaten the very existence of this rich marine ecosystem. Coral Bleaching is a term which is frequently being used with this respect. The corals survive in a certain relationship with algae. But with the increase in the temperatures of ocean waters, the corals end up expelling the algae. As a result, the corals merely starve. This is referred to as coral bleaching. Many a reason is attributed to these degrading effects:
Climate change is the most important reason responsible for increasing temperatures of the sea. Constant temperature rise would lead to coral bleaching.
Around 80% of the surrounding area of the Great Barrier Reef are used in farming. As a result, during floods, the rivers wash off the agricultural deposits or pesticides and insecticides into the waters of the reef. These greatly impact the coral health and water quality.
The farm runoffs often introduce elements like nitrogen, phosphorus into the waters which lead to extensive algae growth. This, in turn, limits Oxygen availability of the living organisms, jeopardizing their lives.
These are a kind of starfish which survive on polyps. A Crown of Thorns outbreak severely damage the ecosystem. Outbreaks occur due to poor water quality or due to lack of these starfish predators.
Big mining companies often dump polluted and waste waters into the reef.
Shipwrecks have always been a concern for conservationists since oil spills cause significant damage to reef life.
Abbot Point Issue
In 2013, a plan for the creation of a coal port(near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) was approved. It allowed the dredging of the seabed from Abbot Point and its subsequent dumping in the reef waters. This decision led to widespread protests as this move would severely harm the reef. The soil suspensions in the waters could significantly block sunlight and starve the corals and other living organisms.
Statistics state that the Reef system has already lost half of its cover since 1985. Many government agencies, private organizations, and social institutions have joined hands to fight for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. A few such notable organizations are mentioned below:
- World Wildlife Fund Australia (WWF) (http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef#gs.3zh6mL0)
- Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) (https://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/great-barrier-reef.html)
- GoEco (https://www.goeco.org/about-goeco)
- Fight For Our Reef ( https://www.fightforourreef.org.au/)
A good many mining industries plan to set up ports along the Marine Park area which would lead to dredging of the seabed and adversely impact the already fragile state of the reef. So these organizations continuously work in tandem with the Australian and Queensland government.
The main aim of these groups is marine conservation on the Great Barrier Reef and preserve them for future generations. The ecosystem is a treasure house of organisms yet unknown to the scientific community, which too needs preservation.
AMCS has actively raised legal fighting funds to challenge dredging and dumping issues. They have mobilized thousands of people and communities to protest against these plans. AMCS has also appealed to big financial institutions to not fund these industrial plans.
WWF Australia is trying to arrest the rate of decline of marine health while trying to reduce the impact of global warming. Over 200,000 people are actively participating in the Fight For Our Reef Community. They demand sustainable tourism and renewable energy use to conserve the Reef and strictly disapprove of industrial expansions in the area.