Located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in the aptly named Coral Sea, the Great Barrier Reef is over 1,200 miles long and covers over 130,000 square miles (exact numbers seem to vary by source.) The reef is the world’s largest structure made up of living things (namely, coral polyps) and it nurtures incredible biodiversity across roughly 3000 individual reefs and 900 islands. It draws over $3 billion in tourism revenue and is very important to the culture of Aboriginal Australian groups. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, and a state icon of Queensland.
Unesco protection starting in the 80s and the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975 have helped to preserve it and protect it from human and environmental threats including overfishing, climate change, pollution and hordes of ravenous demon starfish (yes, really.) In fact, thanks to this protection, the Great Barrier Reef is considered one of the least threatened reefs in the world today. But right now, the reef is facing a serious danger.
According to online news sources, the people most closely in charge of protecting the reef — the heads of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) — have slipped in their diligence in the past several years, allowing themselves to be influenced by political and economical agendas that could seriously harm the area’s ecosystems and the creatures that live in them. Despite protests and appeals from researchers, conservationists, and concerned members of the World Heritage Committee, the GBRMPA has approved the opening of ports and shipping routes within the marine park. For this to be possible, the ocean floor has to be dredged, raising mud, turbulence, and potentially toxic sediment that can seriously injure or stress nearby marine life. The passage of the ships themselves causes all sorts of trouble and disturbance, not least of which is shipping noise which disrupts the echolocation of native dolphin species, causing them to become confused, stressed, and unable to mate.
Recently, the GBRMPA also approved the dumping of dredge waste (the sludge and debris you get from the bottom of the ocean when you dredge it) in areas of the marine park. It’s hard to be comforted by review boards certifying the selected areas as safe to dump when many of the board members seem to have ties to shipping interests and political groups that want to make this happen. Many scientists have come out against to say that the dumping may prove disastrous, literally smothering the coral reefs and their inhabitants under waste material.
Now, what do we stand to lose if the Great Barrier Reef comes to harm? For one thing, the cute and gentle dugong, seen above and recognizable to Floridians as a cousin of the manatee. For another… about 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fish, 200 species of birds, 4000 types of mollusks, 30 species of whales and dolphins, and six kinds of sea turtle (including the critically endangered loggerhead turtle) can be found in the reef and surrounding sea and coastal areas. Not to mention saltwater crocodiles, sea snakes, and giant clams (I know that falls under mollusks, but come on, giant clams!)
The Great Barrier Reef is a true cornucopia of biodiversity, supporting more life than some entire stretches of ocean. For example, the internet says that it has ten times the varieties of coral than the entire Atlantic ocean. It is a place of immense value not only to scientists but to regular people in Australia and all over the world.
I don’t know how much we can do to help protect the reef at this point, but if you are interested, please check out the links provided below.
Links to articles and petitions about the dredge dump:
General info links: