The Great Barrier Reef Isn’t Dead (That Shouldn’t Stop You From Caring)

By Alisa Pierce
Blog Content Contributor

I’ve seen this rumor created by an inaccurate article circulating around social media that The Great Barrier Reef is dead. However, the reef isn’t dead. It’s almost dead. These are two totally different things. The reef is still kicking, if even barely.

An article titled “Obituary: The Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC – 2016)” went viral and many, many people are buying into the false information. The author of the article, Rowan Jacobsen, claimed that the reef had died due to a “long illness”. This was entirely false. However, the reef is in danger. It’s currently not doing so well after dealing with the consequences of El Niño, climate change and, of course, the ever harmful effects of oceanic pollution.

This can have an extreme effect on the ecosystems surrounding the reef. Once the coral dies, small fish that once used the reef as shelter or a food source, will leave or die. The larger fish that fed on the smaller ones will also leave or face death. Then, the birds that eat those fish will leave, which will deplete the energy source brought to island plants by bird droppings. If the effects on the animals don’t alarm you, consider the fact that there are half a billion people worldwide that rely on structures such as The Great Barrier Reef for food, income, and shelter from waves.In fact, scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence For Coral Reef Studies found that 93 percent of the reef has been impacted by a coral bleaching event. This occurs when the water the coral lives in is too warm for too long. When this happens, the coral polyps of the reef eject the algae inside them. Without the algae, the coral flesh becomes see-through and the white skeleton beneath becomes visible. This is a problem because the algae being released provides 90 percent of the reef’s energy. Without that energy, the reef will starve. This means that if the temperature doesn’t change to become suitable for the reef, its coral will die and be replaced by seaweed, which is an indicator of an extreme ecosystem meltdown. Once that happens, it can take more than a decade for the coral to recover, and even then its only possible if the reef does not endure more stress caused by water pollution or further climate change.

So yes, the largest living structure in the world is in trouble. I would even go as far to say that it’s in a lot of trouble.

But it isn’t dead.

Feature Image by Joseph Bonney.

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