Australia bids to save Great Barrier Reef

On the brink: One scientist believes a 3C temperature rise would result in “total devastation”.

Can money save the Great Barrier Reef? Yesterday, the Australian government promised to spend £275 million to save the dying ecosystem. But many argue this is tackling the symptom, not the disease.

Stretching for well over 1,000 miles just off the coast of Australia is the world’s largest living structure: the Great Barrier Reef. It is so colossal that it can be seen clearly from space.

This vast belt of marine life is now in terrible danger. Huge sections of the reef are dead. By some estimates, around a quarter of its coral has died in the last two years.

In aid of one of its greatest treasures, the Australian government has pledged 500 million Australian dollars (£274 million) to help save the reef. It is the largest single investment for reef conservation and management in the country’s history.

“We’ll be improving the monitoring of the reef’s health and the measurement of its impacts,” said Australia’s environment minister, Josh Frydenberg. “The more we understand about the reef, the better we can protect it.”

The money would be used to improve water quality, control predators, invest in coral restoration and enhance underwater monitoring.

Why is it dying? The main reason is a phenomenon called “bleaching”, which occurs when corals become stressed and lose their algae and colour. This happens when seawater becomes warmer. Unless conditions change quickly, bleached corals starve to death. It is estimated that over 90% of the reef has been affected by bleaching.

When corals die, many sea creatures lose a key source of food. This then affects every animal further up the food chain, including human beings.

But as American environmentalist Bill McKibben points out: “Science is well aware of what is killing coral on the Great Barrier Reef — it’s the excess heat that comes from burning fossil fuels.” In other words, we are at fault.

Earlier in April, scientists declared that much of the damage was irreversible. Critics of Australia’s policy say that the country should focus on taking on the industries responsible for burning those fossil fuels.

Earth has already lost half of its “underwater rainforests” over the last 30 years. Is a quick injection of cash the right way to go about conserving the other half?

Money talks

This is like applying a plaster to skin cancer and hoping it will go away, say many environmentalists. To save the Great Barrier Reef, our whole culture needs to change. Regulations on fossil fuels must increase, incentivising renewable energy. And most importantly, awareness needs to be raised among ordinary people.

But it all comes back to money, reply others. How can you inform the world about the plight of the reef without money? At this very moment, scientists are developing technologies to make coral more resistant to warm water. This needs funding. It may seem counter-intuitive, but money and conservation go hand-in-hand.

You Decide

  1. Is raising money the key to saving the environment?
  2. Should the plight of the Great Barrier Reef be leading the news around the world?

Activities

  1. Think of one cheap way of helping endangered ecosystems survive. How much difference could it make?
  2. If you could protect one kind of ecosystem from all the effects of climate change, which one would you choose? Write a short article explaining why.

Some People Say...

“Practically every environmental problem we have can be traced to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Dennis Weaver

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the largest such ecosystem in the world, is in grave danger. Warming waters caused by manmade climate change is killing the coral and endangering all the other animals living on the reef. To counter this, the Australian government has pledged to spend 500 million Australian dollars. The plan has attracted criticism.
What do we not know?
How salvageable the Great Barrier Reef is. Over the last decade, the bleaching has extended further south. “The reef is changing faster than anyone thought it would,” said Terry P. Hughes, an Australian professor. It is very hard to predict how much coral will die in the future, as we cannot be sure just how much the warming of the world’s seas is only down to human intervention.

Word Watch

Marine life
Living on the reef are 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises; six species of sea turtle; 215 bird species; 17 types of sea snake; and 1,500 fish species (around 10% of all the fish species in the world).
Reef
A bar of rock, sand, coral or similar material, lying beneath the surface of water.
One of its greatest treasures
The Great Barrier Reef is a popular tourist destination with over two million visitors each year, generating approximately 6 billion Australian dollars per year.
Bleaching
Bleaching can also occur if the water is too cold, as happened off the coast of Florida in 2010.
Colour
When the water is too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white.
Seawater becomes warmer
A 2017 paper published by Science Advances found that seawater is warming 13% faster than previously thought.

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