Great Barrier Reef Can Still Be Saved: Australia's Coral Ecosystem Dying But Not Yet Dead


The Great Barrier Reef is in serious trouble. Despite being under severe stress like most other coral structures around the world, however, the coral ecosystem spanning 1,400 miles off Australia's coast is not yet dead.

In response to reports that the vast ecosystem is dead, scientists said that the world's largest coral reef system may be dying but it is not yet dead.

Last week, food and travel writer Rowan Jacobsen wrote a tongue-in-cheek obituary for Australia's famed network of reefs on Outside Magazine that generated responses from news outlets and social media users, many of whom mourned for the supposed passing of what is considered as the largest living thing on Earth.

"The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old," Jacobsen wrote.

It is undeniable that the Great Barrier Reef is on life support. A comprehensive reef survey has showed that 93 percent of the reef network is affected by bleaching putting it at risk of extinction. Bleaching happens when corals are subjected to extreme stress such as changes in conditions like light, nutrients and temperature, which cause the corals to expel symbiotic algae from their tissue and in turn cause them to turn white.

Rising water systems primarily driven by climate change is widely attributed for the damages on the Great Barrier Reef.

Scientists, however, are worried that the over-exaggeration of the state of the reef may promote the idea that it is already past the point of recovery. Although most parts of the Great Barrier Reef have been affected by bleaching, not all have died and scientists hope that large areas of the ecosystem will recover.

"This is a fatalistic, doomsday approach to climate change that isn't going to engage anyone and misinforms the public," said coral reef expert Kim Cobb, from Georgia Tech. "There will be reefs in 2050, including portions of the Great Barrier Reef, I'm pretty confident of that. I'm put off by pieces that say we are doomed."

Scientists are conducting studies that can help save the ecosystem. Researchers, for instance, have found that some adult corals swap their algal partners later in life, which could assist them in getting more heat-tolerant microalgae that could eventually help corals better adapt to global warming.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies director Terry Hughes said that there is still hope for the coral ecosystem.

"Large sections of it (the southern half) escaped from the 2016 bleaching, and are in reasonable shape," Hughes said. "The message should be that it isn't too late for Australia to lift its game and better protect the GBR, not we should all give up because the GBR is supposedly dead."

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