Earlier this month, Outside Magazine posted an Obituary for the Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Australia. Stretching more than 1400 miles and providing homes for nearly 6,000 species, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living structure, or at least, according to Outside, was the world’s largest living structure. With more than 1.4 million shares, the post has swept the internet and has caused many to pose the question, “Is the Great Barrier Reef really dead?”.
The article outlines the level of neglect we have given the reef and its effects on the reef’s survival. Evidence of the Great Barrier Reef’s decline first arose in the 1960s when Australia’s government permitted oil and mining companies to drill in the reef’s waters. Furthermore, climate change has risen mean sea temperatures and caused the ocean’s waters to become more acidic, resulting in mass coral bleachings. Despite passionate speeches and dooming carbon projections, Outside asserts we as humans chose to not care about the potential dangers and continue our habits, leading to a bleaching event from which the reef could not recover from, resulting in its death after 25 million years. This bleaching event, the largest on record, resulted in more than 1/5 of the reef being killed
However, many are criticizing the magazine, claiming that the Great Barrier Reef is in fact not dead, but almost dead, expressing that there is still a chance to save it. The Cornell Cooperative Extension tweeted in response, “Great Barrier Reef is dying NOT dead.” Furthermore, many scientists believe that by saying the Great Barrier Reef is dead, Outside fosters the idea that there is no hope to undo the damage we have caused. This then begs the question, “What is being done to save the reef, if anything at all?” Most recently, the Australian and Queensland governments have invested $2 billion in the reef to improve its health and ensure its survival for generations to come. The investment, a part of the ‘Reef 2050 Plan’, includes measures such as passing legislation to protect the reef, banning the dumping of materials in the reef’s waters, and establishing advisory panels to various aspects of the reef.
I side with the majority of scientists in this case. While I believe Outside’s goal was to raise awareness of the reef’s current state through over-exaggeration, I think their message did not make it to many readers, who took the article at face value. Furthermore, I do not believe that the reef’s survival should rest solely on the shoulders of scientists or even the Australian government. As noted by Outside and scientists alike, the Great Barrier Reef is being affected by factors such as ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures, which are attributed to all humans, not just those living within proximity of the reef. The issues with the Great Barrier Reef connect to a much larger scale, and I don’t think many people are seeing that. I believe we need to educate people on the importance of reefs and the dangers of climate change, so we can come together to work on long-term solutions to these problems. As cynical as this may sound, maybe the reef dying or getting severely close is what people need to wake up and see the damage being done across the entire planet. I don’t have a definite answer on how we can save the Great Barrier Reef, but I at least believe that initiating a conversation is a good starting place.