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