The Great Barrier Reef is 2,300km long and 9,000 years old, and it annually pumps some $6 billion into the Australian economy. Each year 2 million people from around the world are drawn to experience it, stoking up the coffers of Queensland's boating, swimming, snorkelling, diving and hospitality businesses that employ in excess of 50,000 people.
Several other nations once boasted similar wonderful reefs, but through waste, ignorance, overfishing and other dire exploitations almost all are collapsing, dying, or already gone.
The delicate algae that supply corals with nutrition are being killed by over-warm waters. With temperatures regularly reaching record heights, reefs around the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the tourism-driven Asian Pacific islands are on the brink of no return.
Corals are not just another renewable form of vegetation, as governments appear to think. They are the fragile, chemically-derived creations of numerous microscopic animals. As such our reef is already jeopardised. Storms are increasingly violent. Floods wash massive amounts of agricultural chemicals and unnatural debris into the sea. The breakdown of tonnes of agricultural and domestic waste is altering the ocean's natural chemical make-up. And now the quick and irreparable impact by wealth-driven corporations, encouraged by our present government, is threatening to deliver yet another blow.
While the sea is capable of absorbing 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere can do, the constant over supply we are pouring into it is reacting with the corals, rendering them weak and easily broken by rough conditions that they would normally withstand. Marine biologists predict total disintegration of the harder corals once CO2 parts per million (ppm) levels in the atmosphere reach 400 to 500 ppm. Currently those levels stand at around 385 ppm.
Our reef is facing extinction. But to our current government this sensational asset is apparently dispensable. Instead of fiercely protecting this particular goose that lays the extraordinary egg that reliably feeds so many people, our governments are a patsy to industry that will in time destroy it. The loud warnings are aggressively ignored, setting our fragile reef well on track to follow the others into obliteration.
- Patricia Edwards
This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column of the The Daily Examiner on Monday 20 January 2014.