What’s Really Going On With The Great Barrier Reef?

What’s Really Going On With The Great Barrier Reef Australia

Navigating the Great Barrier Reef is a unique experience where the rules of the road are discarded. While driving on the wrong side may be a common mishap on foreign holidays, snorkeling in this marine metropolis requires no highway codes. Imagine being surrounded by a swirling tornado of giant trevally fish darting past like speed demons, while wise and serene loggerhead turtles cruise at a leisurely pace.

The Great Barrier Reef, stretching an impressive 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles), is Earth’s largest living organism, a majestic sight even visible from space. Yet, the mysteries of this underwater forest surpass our knowledge of faraway planets like Mars. However, one undeniable truth remains: the reef is in peril, and there is no time for complacency when it comes to its preservation.

So what’s the story?

Earlier this year, scientists made a controversial declaration that up to 90 percent of the reef may have suffered irreversible damage due to mass coral bleaching. Even the esteemed BBC natural history film team, while capturing footage for David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series between 2014 and 2016, witnessed the most extensive coral die-off ever recorded in history.

The urgency of protecting this extraordinary ecosystem cannot be overstated. It is our responsibility to address the challenges and work tirelessly to ensure the Great Barrier Reef’s survival.

Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.
Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.

How did it happen?

The primary culprit behind the devastation was the rise in water temperature, an unfortunate consequence of climate change. Prolonged exposure to warmer waters forced corals to expel their vital photosynthetic organisms, resulting in their pale and fragile state — a phenomenon known as bleaching. Furthermore, the combined impact of El Niño events, cyclones, and the escalating presence of toxic plastic waste exacerbated the already dire situation, leading to truly devastating effects on the Great Barrier Reef.

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Is it game over?

Within the scientific community, there exists a division of opinions regarding the future of the Great Barrier Reef. While some adopt a fatalistic perspective, fearing that the end may be distressingly near, others maintain a hopeful belief in nature’s resilience, suggesting that the reef may undergo transformative changes while persevering. Earlier this year, UNESCO made the decision not to designate Australia’s renowned tourist attraction as a World Heritage site in danger. Efforts are already underway to address the damage inflicted on the reef, as dedicated work is being carried out to initiate its restoration.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's most precious ecosystems.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most precious ecosystems.

Is there any hope?

Absolutely! Each year, a remarkable phenomenon unfolds as coral spawn and regenerate, and the latest observations indicate that the recent spawning event in 2017 has been notably successful. Additionally, numerous scientists are actively engaged in groundbreaking projects at the Heron Island Research Centre, located in the southern region of the reef. Professor Peter Harrison is spearheading efforts to redirect coral spawning to impacted reefs, while Professor Bernard Degnan is focused on combating the crown of thorns starfish, a potential threat to the reefs. Professor Degnan’s innovative approach involves replicating a natural pheromone to attract and control these starfish. These dedicated scientists are at the forefront of research and innovation, striving to protect and preserve the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

What’s left to see?

The magnitude of its beauty exceeds imagination. Immense stretches of the Great Barrier Reef remain untouched and pristine, particularly in the cooler waters of the southern reef, where islands like Heron and Lady Elliott provide a protective haven against turbulent storms. Despite the obstacles it faces, the Great Barrier Reef continues to stand as one of the planet’s most extraordinary marvels. It is our utmost responsibility to utilize every means within our grasp to safeguard this natural wonder and ensure its long-term preservation.

What can we do to help?

Wherever we live in the world, our actions have an impact on the oceans: using less plastic, reducing fuel consumption and cutting down on waste will all be beneficial. You can also join the new Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef initiative to raise awareness of the reef’s plight, because, as Sir David Attenborough points out, the world’s reefs could “be gone within decades and that would be a global catastrophe.”

Also read: The Best Way to Experience The Great Barrier Reef

Getting there

Interested in seeing the Great Barrier Reef in person? Working Holiday Guide can get you there. Check out our Australia East Coast Adventure here.

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