Trouble ahead for ecosystem

Rachel Henley, Staff Writer

April 15, 2016

Bright coral, crystal blue water, rainbow- colored fish, pesticides, run-off, trash. This is what the Great Barrier Reef has come to, and it is about to get worse.

In order to handle coal exports, Queensland, Australia, has okayed the Carmichael mining project. This will increase the coal-processisng capacity of  ortheastern coal port Abbot Point to 60 million tons of coal a year. That is about 10 million train cars full of coal.

“The mine would contribute greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, lots and lots of greenhouse gases over a long period of time,” said Associate Professor of Biology Bryan Brendley. “Scientists have correlated those gases with the bleaching of coral reefs. So there is a very real possibility that the operation of this mine could indeed lead to further bleaching and the continued demise of the Great Barrier Reef as well as other coral reefs.”

Many fear an increase in coal production will lead to more run-off pollution on the Great Barrier Reef and higher temperatures due to carbon dioxide released into the air. Following these effects, the Great Barrier Reef will continue to deteriorate, leaving a barren, brown and broken landscape.

“Scientists, including two from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), have published a study that says current efforts to reduce pollution run-off into the reef’s waters are not enough to meet set targets,” reported The Guardian.

Australia’s Reef 2050 plan is unlikely to succeed due to the Carmichael project. The 2050 plan set goals to manage the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and to keep it off of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s endangered list.

“The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan aims to ensure the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve each decade between now and 2050, ensuring the Reef remains a natural wonder for successive generations,” says the Reef 2050 plan.

With the expansion of Abbot Point looming and very little change in the amount of run-off finding its way into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, the plan to slow the deterioration of the reef has yet to yield many results. The incredible ecosystem is rapidly losing the abundant species that call it home.

The decline of the Great Barrier Reef due to pollution and climate change has been documented as early as 1982. Coral bleaching has made this issue very apparent even to the average eye.

“Mortality appears to increase with the intensity of the bleaching event, which is determined by how much and for how long temperatures remain above the maximum mean summer temperatures,” reported the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology.

From the air, the Great Barrier Reef used to look like a gigantic green vine under the water. Now it looks like a bone yard due to coral bleaching.

Apart from coral bleaching, there are many negative impacts that climate change has had on the Great Barrier Reef. Ocean acidification is likely to have the most significant long-term impact on the reef.

Caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean acidification in the water around the Great Barrier Reef decreases the ability of corals to form strong shells. Without this protection, coral is more susceptible to rough weather and disease.

The best way for people in the United States to help protect the Great Barrier Reef is to put all those lessons on green living from high school to use. Donating to wildlife and environmental conservation organizations, using less water, creating less trash, reducing, reusing, recycling and educating others on the issue can all help.

The Great Barrier Reef is not yet on UNESCO’s list of endangered sites, but it is certainly in danger. Without increased awareness of the impact that climate change and water pollution has had on the Great Barrier Reef, we may eventually only be left with skeletons of coral.

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