The Great Barrier Reef is dead, according to writer Rowan Jacobsen. In actuality, about 22% of the reef is dead, and around 93% of it has been affected by bleaching. Coral bleaching is not new to the reef. It occurs when temperatures rise from increases in CO2 levels in the ocean. The coral begin to reject the colorful algae that provide energy and live in them, which leads them to their deaths. The chance of full rejuvenation of the reef is debatable, but we are definitely capable of saving some, if not most parts of this magnificent civilization under the sea.
People like biologist Justin Marshall believe the reef is worth trying to save, even if there’s a chance it’s already too late. Along the coast of the island Seychelles in East Africa, 60% of the 90% bleached coral recovered in 2015 from the damage that was originally addressed in 1998. The reason behind its recovery was the absence of water pollution, over-fishing, and other harmful human actions. This goes to show that we not only need to decrease our direct effects on the Great Barrier, but also protect it from further exposure to the above man-made problems.
Environmental factors aren’t acting alone in the destruction of the Great Barrier. Michael Slezak believes that the problem is political. People won’t be as inclined to visit if they believe the reef is in an unhealthy state, and tourism contributes $6 billion a year to Australia’s economy. Support for commercial construction near the coast would go down, so politicians were reluctant to comment on the situation during elections this year. This is unfortunate because the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge its existence.
Coral reef expert Kim Cobb says that despite the 85% death of the coral along the coast of Christmas Island in the Pacific, the living percent looked surprisingly untouched by environmental damage. On one hand, it’s comforting to know that nature is capable of adapting to change. We could sit here and appreciate what is left of the Great Barrier Reef in all its beauty, but there is clear damage that is irreversible naturally. There is always genetic engineering, but this method adds onto the artificiality of the world instead of fixing the problem from its root cause: the Anthropocene.
On the other hand, we need to take more initiative to slow down and eventually stop the deterioration of our coral reefs. If 10% of the reefs can be preserved by limiting temperature rise to 1.5C, then one can imagine how much progress could be made if we get this number close to zero. Of course, temperature change is a product of both natural and man-made events, so completely eradicating the increase in CO2 and temperature in the oceans shouldn’t be a main focus. However, one could say that we should aim high so that whatever we achieve will still be significant.
Scientists have already recognized the depletion of life among coral reefs, but politicians and some observers refuse to see this as an immediate threat to the earth. To satisfy the subconscious self-centered thinking of the Anthropocene, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef can be seen as a direct threat to humans. The loss of life underwater means the overflow of pollutants on land into a part of the earth we don’t even live in. And if we managed to damage a whole community of organisms in the ocean, the amount of contamination we have created on our own land must be unbelievably large.