The Great Barrier Reef is a true Australian icon.
Yet with the publication of new science demonstrating the declining health of the reef, the world’s largest natural wonder has never needed the support of philanthropy more.
New research out this month reveals that half of the corals across the Great Barrier Reef have vanished in less than 25 years. The Townsville-based Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies published research in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, showing declines in all size categories of the reef’s small, medium and large coral populations.
The research attributes the largest cause of the decline to be the coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. The largest declines were recorded in the north and central parts of the reef and in some parts of the reef the abundance of large colonies of corals dropped by up to 88 per cent. Whilst there were some modest improvements in some coral types in certain water depths, the overall picture is grim for the health of the reef.
Human pressure on the reef
To say that the reefs have vanished is an injustice to the role that humanity has had in its decline. Experts know where the once abundant reefs have gone. Some have died a slow death from coral bleaching, with changing water temperature causing the symbiotic relationship between the plant-like zooxanthellae and animal-like polyp to break down. Other corals have been smothered by sediment coming from the 2300 kilometre Queensland coastline adjacent to the reef. And yet more reefs have been directly or indirectly impacted by commercial fishing operations which despite the reef being protected in a marine park, still threatened parts of the fragile ecosystem.
Philanthropy has played a crucial role in addressing each of these threats. Specifically philanthropy has been instrumental in reducing deforestation and restoring the health of water catchments to reduce chemical run-off, reducing the impact of climate change by transitioning our electricity system to run on clean, renewable energy, and by reducing the fishing pressure within the Great Barrier Marine Park. Without this crucial work, it is undeniable that the reef would be in a worse state today.
There is so much left worth protecting for nature and the communities that rely on the Great Barrier Reef for their identity, well-being and jobs.
An international icon
When Sir David Attenborough is asked to name is favourite place, he names North Queensland. It is the captivating mix of rainforest and the world’s largest coral reef system that has held Queensland in Attenborough’s heart throughout his 70 year career.
We have so much to be proud of in our blue backyard, let’s act to ensure that turning a corner on the health of the Great Barrier Reef is one of those things.
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30 November 2020