The Great Barrier Reef is a spectacular natural wonder on Australia’s northeast coast. It has the world’s most extensive collection of coral reefs, with 400 different kinds of coral, 1,500 wide varieties of fishes, and 4,000 different kinds of molluscs. Because of its diversity and distinctiveness, the reef is vital to tourism and the Australian economy, attracting at least 1.6 million tourists each year. It is also of significant scientific relevance since it is the shelter of endangered animals such as the dugong and the big green turtle. Today through this article, we will understand why the UN panel recommended Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to be listed on the “in danger” list of the world heritage site, citing climate change and rising temperatures as severe risks to the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem.
Corals require warm water to grow and survive, but they are susceptible to temperature and can be killed by an increase of 2o-3o Fahrenheit over the usual. Regular bleaching occurrences are threatening its existence, making it increasingly easy for the great barrier reef to be listed on the “in danger” list.
But what exactly is bleaching, and how does it influence coral reef survival?
Coral is made up of a variety of tiny invertebrates. To create vivid structures, these small creatures create a solid exterior skeleton. A healthy coral has a symbiosis interaction with algae. Algae perform photosynthesis to convert sunlight into carbohydrates offering food and oxygen to the coral while the coral protects and nourishes the algae.
As ocean temperature increases owing to global warming, algae start creating compounds that are poisonous to coral, which causes the algae to be expelled. This process is termed bleaching because the coral becomes white.
The bleaching of coral reefs
Warming oceans caused by anthropogenic greenhouse emissions resulted in six mass bleaching outbreaks throughout the reef in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2022.
According to 2018 research, approximately 1/3rd of the Great Barrier Reef had suffered significant bleaching damage. The study also showed that vast volumes of coral died relatively soon in the heated water, even before they had the opportunity to expel their algae companions. The reef’s destruction has also dramatically changed the coral species’ mix. This shows that climate warming poses considerably larger threats than experts originally anticipated.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reported widespread bleaching in 2022 as the first occurrence during a cooler La Niña year, impacting 91% of all coral reefs.
Source: The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies released a map illustrating which regions were badly bleached and which remained intact.
According to the latest NOAA projection, extensive portions of the northern reef will likely see significant bleaching by late January, with certain places experiencing sufficient heat to induce coral mortality in the following weeks.
The Bottom Line
Australia’s attempts to protect the Great Barrier Reef from pollution and global warming are insufficient. According to scientists, provided nations upheld worldwide obligations in the Paris climate agreement limiting temperature rises to less than 2°C, Australia would still have the Great Barrier Reef in 50 years. However, the reef will be unrecognizable if global temperatures increase at their current rate.
Australia has taken extraordinary measures to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef, which the United Nations has classified as a world heritage site. Still, more was required to prevent it from being deemed “in danger” by UNESCO.
However, considering the reef’s heritage significance, Australia’s environment minister declared that the government would lobby against UNESCO’s recommendation for the Great Barrier Reef to be listed on the “in danger” list because climate change was impacting all coral reefs globally. The government has also committed to investing 1.2 billion Australian dollars in safeguarding the reef in the following years.