Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic natural treasures on our planet. It is the world’s largest coral reef and the biggest single structure constructed by living organisms, it’s so big that it can be seen from space. More than 2 million tourists travel to Queensland, Australia each year in order to visit this phenomenal piece of nature. Some access the reef by boat while other snorkel or dive to catch a glimpse of the vibrant colors and marine life. Sadly the reef, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981, is dying at an alarmingly fast pace.

Why is the Coral Dying?

Global warming is a contentious issue on the political spectrum, with power brokers and special interest groups influencing the world’s ability to abate climate change, but scientists are unanimous in their beliefs that the earth is warming. In 2016, 67% of the furthest north section of the coral reef died. According to Australian scientists, this is the most devastating coral death ever recorded. Thankfully, not all sections of the reef were affected as severely, with between 1-6% coral death recorded in the southern sections. The coral is dying due to water temperature, the waters are too warm and the coral is literally cooking. A combination of El Niño and unusually warmer ocean temperatures is causing the damage. High water temperatures stress the coral, which then expels the algae that live inside it, leaving it bleached and white, as the algae are responsible for the attractive colors of coral reefs.

How is a Coral Reef Formed?

Coral reefs are formed by thousands of polyps, small creatures only a number of millimeters long, that bundle together. Over hundreds of years the shells of the polyps combine to create the reefs. Different polyps produce different shaped reefs due to the differences in their shells. Coral reefs are an extremely diverse ecosystem beneath the sea, they are home to a huge variety of marine species and humans rely on them for fishing and protecting coastlines among other things. The Great Barrier also serves as a cultural and spiritual gathering point for local population groups.

The deterioration in the state of the reef has caught the attention of the Australian public, environmentalist organizations and the tourist sector. While the situation is indeed worrying it is vital not to morn the death of the coral but to fight for its life, and indeed many organizations, scientists and nature lovers are taking action.

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