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Ac­cord­ing to ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Prof Ove Hoegh-Guld­berg, di­rec­tor of the Global Change In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Queens­land, more coral bleach­ing events will con­tinue to im­pact the reef if we don’t do some­thing about it.

“Killing coral has re­ally re­duced the abil­ity of the reef to pro­duce off­spring,” says Hoegh-Guld­berg. “The idea that th­ese large re­main­ing stocks of coral also get whacked at the same time as we’re los­ing the abil­ity for the reef to re­gen­er­ate… It’s re­ally se­ri­ous. Fast for­ward to to­day, where we’re driv­ing un­der­wa­ter heat­waves that are more and more reg­u­lar on al­most an an­nual ba­sis. And at the same time we have acid­i­fi­ca­tion and pollution that are slow­ing the abil­ity for corals to grow back.”

A re­port ti­tled Lethal Con­se­quences: Climate Change Im­pacts On The Great Bar­rier Reef pub­lished in Oc­to­ber this year re­vealed that the fu­ture sur­vival of coral reefs around the world, in­clud­ing the Great Bar­rier Reef, de­pends on how swiftly green­house gas pollution lev­els are slashed over the com­ing years and decades.

Ac­cord­ing to es­teemed Aus­tralian sci­en­tist Prof Tim Flan­nery, we can make a dif­fer­ence to the fate of the reef—it’s not as im­pos­si­ble as it may seem. He says the cor­re­la­tion be­tween our day-to-day ex­is­tence and what hap­pens deep in those oceans are in­ter­con­nected.

“If peo­ple don’t be­lieve we are hav­ing an in­flu­ence on the planet, I think they just don’t see the big pic­ture,” says Flan­nery. “Just look at the earth at night and see how it’s lit up like a big Christ­mas tree. You tell me that is hav­ing no im­pact? We have driven the great whales to al­most ex­tinc­tion; our cities are so in­flu­en­tial in so many ways. We have drained whole rivers and are very pow­er­ful en­ti­ties on the planet. The at­mos­phere is a very small and dy­namic part of it—it’s 500 times smaller than the ocean, so with all those lights on and trees, chim­neys and bil­lions of cars means we’re chang­ing the com­po­si­tion of the at­mos­phere. Man up and un­der­stand it’s you who is do­ing it and start to change.”

Coral bleach­ing oc­curs when the wa­ter is too warm forc­ing coral to ex­pel al­gae [zoox­an­thel­lae] liv­ing in their tis­sues—in turn caus­ing the coral to turn com­pletely white. Bleach­ing is oc­cur­ring world­wide—not just in the reef with al­most half of the coral reef lost in the Caribbean in 2005 due to a mas­sive bleach­ing event.

“We killed off half the coral at the Great Bar­rier Reef by 2012 and killed an­other half of what re­mained in the last five years or so,” says Flan­nery. “It’s not hard to see if you keep do­ing that there won’t be much coral left.”

The re­turn pe­riod for global bleach­ing events has de­creased from 27 years in the 1980s to only 5.9 years in 2018. In the fu­ture, re­gional-scale bleach­ing can be ex­pected to oc­cur in hot sum­mers in both El Nino and La Nina years.

The idyl­lic Heron Is­land, lo­cated in the Great Bar­rier Reef, is named af­ter the heron birds that in­habit it. Sur­rounded by 24 hectares of coral reef, it’s the ideal spot to see coral within me­tres of walk­ing into the wa­ter and barely be knee-deep to wit­ness the beauty. The is­land has been a World Her­itage-listed ma­rine na­tional park for the past 37 years, and it takes all but un­der 30 min­utes to do a lap of its cir­cum­fer­ence.

Lo­cated 72km from Glad­stone in Queens­land, Heron Is­land is a slice of heaven on earth. You won’t find day trip­pers here, there’s barely any phone re­cep­tion and it’s a two-hour ferry ride from Glad­stone, mak­ing it the ul­ti­mate place to un­wind on a se­cluded is­land.

There’s a cock­tail bar, restau­rant, out­door pool over­look­ing the coral cay where you can spot manta rays ly­ing low in the shal­low wa­ters. Sun­set is a treat—a crisp or­ange hue falls on the hori­zon at dusk light­ing the is­land in an or­ange liqueur-tinged glow. It’s the place to do whale watch­ing be­tween June and Oc­to­ber, where sea tur­tles in­clud­ing log­ger­head va­ri­eties come to nest, and is a prime lo­ca­tion for div­ing ex­pe­di­tions—with a mere five- to 10-minute boat ride to get you to some of the best coral reef ex­plo­ration sites. You get to swim with colour­ful fish, wit­ness the fragility of coral and plant life that’s the lifeblood of the Reef.

Flan­nery is not alone when it comes to rais­ing aware­ness about climate change and the Great Bar­rier Reef—celebri­ties such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia

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