Science

Great Barrier Grief

Things aren't going so swimmingly for the underwater superstructure.

By Emmaline Rice

Sweeping claims that the Great Barrier Reef has died of human-driven climate change complications have been made, shared, reblogged, and tweeted– but the minute actualities have been less sensational when freed of the clickbait perspective. One week later, anyone following the outcry has hopefully been able to reach a singular conclusion: the initially viral article, a viscerally sarcastic reflection guised as satiric obituary published in Outside magazine, “Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC–2016),” was ultimately wildly inaccurate in its prognosis. But it doesn’t stop there. This fudged attempt at satire was also rampant with misinformation from dates to data and, of course, the broader picture.

The Huffington Post quickly rebutted Outside’s article by giving immediate voice to scientists studying the Reef. The message was clear: the initial article missed the mark. While humanity, now in the full throes of its Anthropocene adolescence, can indeed be traced to rapid decimation of ecosystems, we haven’t quite managed to kill off the Great Barrier Reef.

The largest of Earth’s coral reefs, The Great Barrier Reef clocks in at a whopping nearly 3,000 reefs total. If that’s not enough to impress you, just know that it is also a favourite landmark on International Space Station revolutions. The Reef’s inherent biodiversity is, naturally, unprecedented as well as unique. Most importantly, it’s still alive, and should be for some time.

However, the Great Barrier Reef is ailing. Mass bleaching due to elevated ocean temperatures from global warming has given some coral a skeletal appearance. Some have perished entirely. Other destructive factors include overfishing, shipping, unethical tourism, and pollution.

It could be argued the initial author chose to garner outrage like the medieval town crier spitting at the masses to raise awareness of a cause that may have otherwise remained hellishly ignored. If that was their agenda… well, perhaps grudging applause is merited. Treatment of the Reef was indeed exposed for its insidious complacency– how else could humanity have allowed this to happen? Now, the conversation has been undeniably sparked. Perhaps with public attention swayed towards the Reef, even more critical efforts can be made as involvement is not relegated solely to officials conducting the Paris climate talks, but is a colloquial discussion.

Despite the considerable damage done to the reefs, those scientists who have seen its effects firsthand maintain a stalwart outlook. They have highlighted one central tenant throughout this media buzz: to maintain hope for the planet, and not to give up on saving and protecting ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef, specifically, may survive. Actions must be taken, but there is still time. Thankfully, under pressure from UNESCO, the Australian government pledged to a sustainability plan that reaches into 2050.

The Great Barrier Reef, though doing considerably poorly, is not dead. So through sustained, great efforts to curb human damage to the reefs, perhaps we will be seeing more positive articles soon. Continuing to invest emotional and intellectual energy into protecting natural environments is absolutely worthwhile. Obituarists need not apply.

Image credit: Robert Linsdell

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