The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is facing its greatest threat yet – annihilation. This aquatic ecosystem harbors more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, one-third of the world’s soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals. As a home to a great diversity of organisms, what will happen to this ecosystem if the Great Barrier Reefs die and what can we do to prevent it?
How Do Coral Reefs Form?
Coral reefs are delicate ecosystems that are formed over centuries. Free-swimming coral polyps attach to submerged rocks and begin to grow. As they expand, the polyp forms a hard, protective base of limestone surrounding its body. Hundreds of years later, an aquatic ecosystem that contains one of Earth’s most diverse organisms is created.
What Dangers are the Great Barrier Reefs Facing?
Coral bleaching is a stress response of corals where, during unfavorable conditions they expel zooxanthellae, causing them to turn white. Corals are accustomed to a specific water temperature and pH level, and are particularly sensitive to global warming, which can change the environment in which the corals reside. With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rising at an alarming rate – a result of fossil fuels emissions – more CO2 is being dissolved into the ocean. This lowers the pH level, making the ocean more acidic, and causing an inability of the corals to produce their hard skeleton.
Coral reefs are also threatened by the sediment and nutrient runoffs from agricultural farming. Increased sediment runoff reduces the clarity of the water and ultimately leads to an obstruction of light to light-dependent plants. Nutrient runoff promotes eutrophication, the explosive growth algae which depletes the dissolved oxygen in water. This, in turn, can prove to be very deadly to the organisms found in coral reefs. Finally, the runoff of pesticides and herbicides into the ocean can weaken the health of the coral, making them more susceptible to diseases.
How Can We Help The Great Barrier Reefs Recover?
The first change we can initiate is the prevention of climate change. By reducing our fossil fuel emissions, we can decrease the dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean, returning its pH to normal levels.
Conserving water can greatly aid the effort to save the Great Barrier Reefs. While still using the amount of water we need, we can decrease the runoff of pollutants into the ocean, and prevent additional stress to the corals.
Finally, we need to stop the act of overharvesting by fishermen. A problem that was unmentioned, but equally important, is the fishing of predators in the coral reefs. These include coral trouts, snappers, and emperor fish. The reduction of these predators alters the balance and structure of the coral reef system and have many repercussions on the ecosystem.
“Australia’s Great Barrier Reef under Threat.” org. World Wildlife Fund, 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.
“Coral Bleaching.” Coral Bleaching. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
“About the Australian Institute of Marine Science.” Jurisdiction Commonwealth of Australia; CorporateName Australian Institute of Marine Science. Jurisdiction Commonwealth of Australia; CorporateName Australian Institute of Marine Science, 24 July 2000. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Edited by: Daryn Dever and Shreya Singireddy