GREAT BARRIER REEF

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Marine Sanctuaries Around The World - Text by Great Barrier Reef Legacy Images by Jür­gen Fre­und

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest liv­ing struc­ture on the planet, stretch­ing 2,300 kilo­me­tres – large enough to be seen from space. Known for its breath­tak­ing ar­ray of ma­rine crea­tures, the ma­rine park is home to 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jel­ly­fish, 3,000 va­ri­eties of mol­luscs, 500 species of worms, 1,625 types of fish, 133 va­ri­eties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dol­phins.

Sadly, with the re­cent co­ral bleach­ing event and crown-of-thorns in­fes­ta­tion, the great reef has be­come the poster boy for cli­mate change – far from the ma­rine par­adise it was once her­alded as.

It is the pace at which the cli­mate is chang­ing that makes the sit­u­a­tion par­tic­u­larly un­ten­able. Co­ral reefs have never be­fore faced the bar­rage of threats they do to­day – the 2016 co­ral bleach­ing event was a first for a de­cline of that mag­ni­tude. With our con­tin­ued burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els, more bleach­ing events are in­evitable in the com­ing years, leav­ing co­ral reefs lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively in hot wa­ter.

Thank­fully, co­ral reefs are re­silient and have sur­vived on the planet for mil­lions of years. They are dy­namic and adapt­able ecosys­tems and it is

almost cer­tain that corals will sur­vive in some form or an­other into the fu­ture, though they may look and func­tion very dif­fer­ently from to­day.

There is a new and in­trigu­ing school of thought emerg­ing in the “save the reef” de­bate, with some ex­perts con­clud­ing that the lesser tar­get of pro­tect­ing the eco­log­i­cal func­tion of the reef is more re­al­is­tic than sal­vaging it. Their stance is that it is too late to pre­serve the reef as we know it, but if we can un­der­stand and main­tain key ecosys­tem ser­vices, we will avoid catas­tro­phe for the mil­lions of peo­ple who de­pend on co­ral reefs for their food and liveli­hood.

Reef tourism and the wider com­mu­nity have key roles to play in shar­ing the reef’s story with the world. When the av­er­age per­son can un­der­stand the prob­lems sur­round­ing co­ral bleach­ing, we can mo­bilise govern­ments to take the nec­es­sary ac­tion. What will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the fate of co­ral reefs world­wide is how quickly we stop burn­ing fos­sil fu­els and heat­ing our planet. Pos­i­tive and ur­gent ac­tion on cli­mate change com­bined with ef­fec­tive reef man­age­ment, in­creased in­vest­ment in re­search and in­creased pub­lic aware­ness means the Great Barrier Reef still has a fight­ing chance.

With our con­tin­ued burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els, more bleach­ing events are in­evitable in the com­ing years, leav­ing co­ral reefs lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively in hot wa­ter

LEFT

A potato cod

(Epinephelus tukula)

with cleaner wrasse

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