Beyond tourism concern, the trouble in Australia's Great Barrier Reef could spell trouble for mankind. It may seem far removed but the slow death the giant coral structure is experiencing could also foreshadow the doom that awaits the human society.
This is even more alarming as the Great Barrier Reef is reported to have suffered from massive coral bleaching — the second of such event in two years.
The question is not much in knowing what will happen to it and all other coral ecosystems in the world if the destruction goes on unabated but rather in knowing what will happen to society if it ever dies.
Dying But Not Dead
All is not lost, however. Scientists agree that the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble and may be dying but it is not dead yet. It is not yet time to write the obituary.
"This is a fatalistic, doomsday approach to climate change that isn't going to engage anyone and misinforms the public," coral reef expert Kim Cobb from Georgia Tech said.
Cobb is convinced that a portion of the giant barrier reef and coral reefs around the world will stay beyond 2050.
"I'm pretty confident of that. I'm put off by pieces that say we are doomed," he declared.
These coral reefs are alive and they have the capacity to adapt to the changing climate.
Researchers have discovered that some of the corals change their algal partners as they grow older. In this way, they can acquire algae that are more tolerant to heat brought about by global warming.
There is hope, Terry Hughes, director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said.
Why Save The Coral Ecosystem
To save the coral ecosystem from demise is important to human survival. The 2014 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization underscored the importance of reefs as it provides some 17 percent of the protein global requirement. In some areas like Sierra Leone and Maldives, the figure may climb to as high as 70 percent.
In addition, one-fourth of the marine species depend on coral reefs.
Several Ways Forward
There are several ways scientists believe they could do to save it and save humanity, too.
A study conducted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama found out that combination of warming and sea acidification is lethal to the health of corals.
Based on this finding, one proposed conservation strategy is to add bicarbonates or lime to the water in order to reduce ocean acidity. It needs an estimated 10 cubic kilometers of lime every year to achieve this.
To address warming, some scientists propose the building of giant shades on reefs in shallow waters.
Replanting of corals with varieties that are heat-tolerant is also offered as one of the solutions. Toward this end, scientists are considering the idea of gardening coral reefs.
These proposed strategies are limited when applied on a global scale.
In the end, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is important to save the dying Great Barrier Reef and the whole coral ecosystem worldwide.
"By 2050, we may still have corals, and things we call 'reefs', but they will be massive limestone structures that were built in the past, with tiny patches of living coral struggling to survive on them," coral ecologist Peter Sale said.
He is convinced that the world without coral reefs will still survive but it will be less livable than we have now.