The Great Barrier Reef is home to 400 different coral species, 1,500 kinds of fish, 4,000 mollusks, and many other species. It is roughly the size of Montana, spanning 2,600 kilometers and is about 133,000 sq. miles. In 1981, it was declared a World Heritage Site. Now, there are numerous projects that are being funded, which threaten the reef.
Most of these projects are for expanding ports. When a port is expanded, it requires dredging, or removal of sediment to make room for large ships to pass. Dredging, new ships, ocean acidification, pollution, and cyclones are all harming the reef. In the past 30 years, the reef has lost 30% of its coral. When ships pass through areas near the reef, the noise levels can harm many sea creatures. Animals such as the dolphin and whale use noise to communicate. Therefore, the ship noise can interfere with the activities of these mammals. Dredging causes sediment to make the water murky for up to 50 miles, causing less light to be able to reach the coral. This can halt the corals’ photosynthesis. A recent study found that a rise of sea temperature of just 1-2 degrees could cause coral death.
Farming and run-off is a big problem as well. Mud pollution has increased by 800% and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from pesticides has increased by over 1000%. The poor water quality encourages the spread of diseases among corals.
If the reef is destroyed, there is no barrier between the island shore and the open sea. Creatures such as sharks would be able to travel through beach waters, which creates a very dangerous situation.
There have been many protests against the expansion of ports. Greenpeace created the “Save the Reef” campaign and got 170,000 signatures in March, 2014. GetUp!, EDO, WWF, and AMCS are all organizations that are also trying to raise support about the reef. WWF and AMCS even created a musical fundraising project. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream withdrew the popular “Phish Food” flavor in protest.
Because of much protest and disagreement, a full ban on dumping in the Great Barrier Reef was approved. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has voted to maintain pressure on Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the health of the reef. However, the reef still needs much help to recover.
Here are a few things you can do to help the reef:
– Don’t use chemically enhanced pesticides and fertilizers. Products can still end up in the ocean even if you live far away.
– Support conservation organizations. New petitions and programs are aiming to help the reef recover.
– Conserve water. The less water you use, the less runoff there is to harm the oceans.
– Learn more about coral reefs. Educate others. Spread the word!