The Great Barrier Reef is Dying and Why We Should be Alarmed
It’s a punch to the gut, this news of the Great Barrier Reef dying or dead, depending on whose point of view.
Published by Wave Tribe
Either way, it’s not a piece of news that one should take lightly, particularly when so much depends on our reefs.
We’ve always tend to appreciate reefs more because of its biodiversity and beautiful shades of color. What isn’t emphasized though is that there are a variety of ecosystems which depend on the productivity of these reefs. With what is now happening to the Great Barrier, these ecosystems are threatening to collapse.
The total area of the world’s coral reefs only amounts to less than one quarter of 1% of the entire marine environment and yet these reefs are home to about 25% of all marine life. That’s about 2 million diverse species which are all important, not only for a healthy environment, but also for the world population’s food security.
Here’s a list on all the notable reefs but it’s by no means complete. What is alarming is that this list might as well be an endangered list because all over the world, coral reefs are struggling to survive amid threats from overfishing, pollution and climate change.
Scientists and conservationists have, in fact, designated coral reefs as a priority species because of its ecological, economic and cultural importance. Our lives are so entwined with these reefs and yet most of us don’t realize it.
And this is why the news of the Great Barrier’s demise is devastating and should make us all very alarmed.
The Largest Living Thing on Earth
The Great Barrier Reef, which has been dubbed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders, is a 1,400-mile structure of 3,000 individual reefs and 1,000 coral islands on the continent of Australia. That’s larger than the land area of the United Kingdom. It also happens to contain more biodiversity that all of Europe combined.
Formed during the prehistoric Miocene Age by corals, the reef slowly built itself along the coastline of Australia to become what it is today: a widespread labyrinth of atolls and shallow-water reefs ending dramatically in an outer wall that plunges half a mile into the abyss, 140 miles of the coast.
In fact, it’s so large that it’s the only living thing that can be seen from outer space.
It’s responsible for around 10 percent of the world’s total fish species, with more than 1,500 fish species living on the reef. The diversity alone is staggering considering that there is still much we do not know these organisms. In medicine, current cancer drug research is focusing on marine organisms and the possibility of losing any of these marine organisms which might have untold curative properties for cancer, HIV or cardiovascular is heartbreaking.
Coral reefs also generate an estimated $352,000/ha/yr based on the critical values and services that they provide. The Great Barrier Reef, for instance, generates more than 1.5 billion dollars every year for the Australian economy, from fishing and tourism.
The increasing acidification of the ocean has further worsened the Great Barrier Reef’s condition. The acid is slowly dissolving the living coral.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
Death by Bleaching
And now it will be gone.
If you’ve read this obituary, you’ll know that the death of the Great Barrier Reef is another result of global warming and its negative effects on climate change.
As greenhouse gases continue to rise around the world, it traps the heat inside the earth’s atmosphere . The ocean absorbs most of this heat, leading to increased water temperatures.
Now, the corals are dependent on the symbiotic algae living on their surfaces. These algae provide them food and are the reason why corals have beautiful colors which attract fish to live among them. But when the ocean temperature increases, these algae produce more oxygen. Too much oxygen is toxic for corals and so they eject these algae in order to survive.
This is what causes the coral bleaching. Without the algae, corals turn white and become starved. If the water temperature remains hot, it won’t be able to recover its algae and the corals will die off in a few months.
As if it wasn’t enough, the increasing acidification of the ocean has further worsened the Great Barrier Reef’s condition. The acid is slowly dissolving the living coral. Too much carbon absorption has resulted in increased acidity of the marine ecosystem and the acid has begun to dissolve the living coral.
Living on Borrowed Time?
This double whammy of a disaster has already resulted in the death of half of the Great Barrier Reef. And the prognosis continues to be grim.
In 2016, the world passed the carbon threshold . At 400 parts per million, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is already equivalent to the levels Earth had during its Stone Age period.
Scientists consider this as clear red line into the danger zone. And for Charlie Vernon, the chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science , a further increase into 450 ppm CO2 concentration will finally kill off the Great Barrier Reef.
What Can One Do?
Now more than ever, we need to limit the greenhouse gas emissions so that we don’t go over the tipping point. The surfing industry has long been regarded as complicit in increasing carbon emissions. From our petroleum-based neoprene wetsuits to our paraffin waxes and most especially our polyurethane surfboards, we have far too large a carbon footprint.
And we so need to reduce that. Like, yesterday. That’s how urgent this has become in the light of what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef.
In fact, this is one of the reasons why we put up Wave Tribe so that we can help propel the movement to lessen our carbon footprint in the industries that we create. We are also working with other organizations to Heal the Oceans. We encourage our customers to do the same by volunteering or donating to these organizations because every little bit of effort helps.
The more of us work for a responsible surfing lifestyle, the more pressure we will be placing on the industry to create sustainable, eco-friendly gear and swim wear. For most of us, surfing is our life. But so is the ocean. Surfers need to work with designers to create new alternatives in order for us to reduce surfing’s carbon footprint.
Because if we don’t, it’s just not our surfing lifestyle that will be at stake. It will be our lives. Think about that.