Magic Under The Sea
Off the cost of Australia, corals every color of the rainbow, connect together creating a magical habitat for many fish. This amazing natural environment is called the Great Barrier Reef. Ranging from many different sizes, shapes and functions, The Great Barrier reef is a very important structure for all the animals and fish around it as well as humans in the form of tourism. At a young life The Great Barrier Reef is beginning to die off due to many preventable, common troubles. Although the Great Barrier Reef is a massive size at 1,600 miles long, it is quickly dimensioning because pollution, overfishing waters around it, as well as fluctuation in climate and water temperature.
Located in the shallow waters off the coast of Australia, The Great Barrier Reef is the largest chain of coral reefs stretching from northern Queensland, 1,600 miles down the coast of Australia. The reef is made up of over 3000 different corals and 900 islands. The corals vary in size from 3 to 56 mm but group together to create a large reef system. The Great Barrier Reef is so large it is the only landmark seen from outer space and is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef is a rather young reef at 500,000 years old; other reefs started forming over 500 million years ago. The Great Barrier Reef is partly protected by The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to regulate tourism and to make sure tourist don’t take pieces or anything home from the reef with them which can be illegal. The Great Barrier Reef needs to be conserved as much as possible due to the thousands of different animals and fish that call it home. Buzzle.com reveals all the different types species living in the reefs, “Amongst the species that are seen out here, one can notice around 30 species of whales, 215 species of beautiful birds, 6 species of sea turtles, 125 species of sharks and stingrays, 49 species of pipefish, 17 species of sea snakes and around 1,500 types of fish.” (Buzzle.com) Just the animals alone are a good reason to protect the reefs because it provides such a large home.
Corals are actually living organism that stay hidden most the time in their hard shells that protect them made out of calcium carbonate. Some corals eat small fish and phytoplankton but others live off algae called zooxanthellae. The corals reproduce asexually or by releasing polyps at the same time to connect and create a new coral. They group together and a reef is formed such as The Great Barrier Reef. Although the Great Barrier Reef has been around for quite a while, it is very fragile to the many dangerous conditions in and out of the ocean waters.
One of the most common and worst problems causing serious damage to the Great Barrier Reef is pollution. Pollution comes in many different forms but they all cause destruction to the reef which is slowing killing it. A serious problem that is very preventable by humans is all the runoff from the coast of Australia. Runoff such as sewage, both human and animal, is flowing into the waters around the Great Barrier Reef and leaving it filthy, making it hard for the corals to grow and reproduce. This is very preventable by not letting the sewage run into the waters. Some of the sewage has nutrients that increase the growth of Crown-Of-Starfish, a starfish that is extremely deadly to the corals because they are eating them. As well as sewage runoff in the water, some of the runoff contains fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides. This is largely contributed from farmers on the mainland of Australia. Farmers spray their plants and the rain helps wash the deadly pollutants into the ground and out to rivers that carry it to the Great Barrier Reef. Any kind of chemical runoff is bad for any sea life. These chemicals have been found to kill the sea grass and cause reproduction damage to the fish and corals.
Pollution in the waters is also due to sedimentation flowing into the waters from rivers and lakes in the mainland. Author Iain Gordon links the rivers to the Great Barrier Reef, “The reefs ecosystem has a complex interdependent relationship with the adjacent coastal river catchments with over 30 different rivers and hundreds of small streams draining into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.” (Iain Gordon) With so many water entries into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, tons of sand, dirt and pollution will cloud the waters. Silt and dirt flow down the rivers and out into the ocean causing erosion of the land around the reefs and making the reefs filthy. The silt and dirt cloud the waters making it harder for the corals and water plants to grow because the sunlight is blocked reducing photosynthesis.
Any time your do too much of something it results in harmful consequences. Overfishing in the Great Barrier Reef is causing a large disturbance in the food chain in the coral ecosystem. When one fish is overfished and the population gets low the whole food web gets thrown off. The population of the prey fish will rise and the larger predators dwindle because they have no food. A study by Australian scientists found the dramatic decrease in sharks on the reef, “Reef Sharks are effectively on a fast to ‘ecological extinction’, becoming so rare that they will no longer play their part in the ecology and food web of the reef.” (Ecos Jan 2007) Overfishing will even affect the plants and corals that give the fish a home. Extra algae will grown and suffocate plants if the cleaning fish are reduced. Every plant, coral and fish has its purpose and it can be dramatically disturbed with overfishing by humans. The large fishing vessels that are contributing to the overfishing destruction can also cause damage to the reef. Dropping anchors, dragging the nets along the sea bottom, and collision between boats all break off corals and ultimately kill them.
The last deadly predicament to the Great Barrier Reef is climate and water fluctuation. Most of the fluctuation is due to natural causes such as Global Warming. Global Warming is causing grave trouble for the corals reefs to reproduce, grow, and live. One of the most common and harmful conditions that happen to the reef is coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is exactly how it sounds; the corals lose all color and eventually die. Coral bleaching occurs when the corals are under tremendous stress and they expel the Zooxanthellae that gives them color and makes them healthy. The corals literally turn white and continue to bleach even when the stress is gone. David Helvarg reports a coral bleaching crisis due to climate, “The hottest year on record, 1998, saw a global outbreak of coral bleaching, as coral reefs thermal tolerance was exceeded by a combination of gradually warming sea temperatures spiked by that years El Nino phenomena.” (Helvarg) If the corals can recuperate it takes a long time to gain their color back, most times the corals are damaged for life. Australian Institute of Marine Science did a study on the calcification of the corals and found that; “Calcification rates dropped by 14 percent from 1990 to 2005, on current trends, the corals would stop growing altogether by 2050.”(Ecos Feb 09) The decline in calcification makes the corals weaker and slower to heal after coral bleaching tragedies.
Most common forms of stress are natural weather storms such as cyclones, tsunamis, and hurricanes, which in turn change the water temperature. Solar radiation is a factor of coral bleaching as well. The Great Barrier Reef has seen large amounts of coral bleaching. The study by Evan Weller and colleagues found, “It is proposed that the greatest uptake of heat occurs over the spring/summer period in the central and southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef, agreeing well with areas where anomalously high sea surface temperatures are observed and where the most significant coral bleaching has occurred, and not in the most northern, more tropical region, as might be expected.” (Weller) With temperature change near the coral reefs, the fish and marine life that call it home sometime move to different climates makes it difficult for the reef to evolve completely.
When hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis and other natural weather storms flow throw the path of The Great Barrier Reef if they don’t stress the corals out and cause bleaching they can completely destruct the reefs breaking pieces off. As well as breaking the reefs apart, the storms bring in trash and waste, polluting the waters and habitat of the reef.
Rachel Przeslawski and other scientist found, “After cyclone Ingrid crossed the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in 2005, researchers revisited previously monitored reefs in order to investigate the damage inﬂicted to inshore and offshore tropical reefs. They found that catastrophic damage to reefs occurred at winds 433 m s1 for inshore reefs and 440 m s1 for offshore reefs suggesting that inshore reefs are more vulnerable to increasing storm intensities, particularly when anthropogenic stressors such as coastal runoff and pollution are also considered.” (Rachel Przeslawski)
Many people feel they are changing and helping The Great Barrier Reef but it is just a small action the reef is still seeing destruction. More help is needed to protect and save the reef for many years to come. Farmers say they are reducing chemical flow into waters but if they are still using chemicals on the plants or in farm production it still seeps into the ground into the water system and eventually out to the ocean. A new enzyme is being tested in Queensland, Australia, the coast of the Great Barrier Reef and according to Cameron Begley, “Farmers around the world are expected to benefit from the successful trial of an enzyme that breaks down residues of the widely used herbicide, atrazine, in farm dams and runoff water, helping reduce pollution downstream.” (Ecos Apr 09) This is a good start but only one herbicide is being reduced. There is many more polluting the waters near the Great Barrier Reef.
Certain parts of The Great Barrier Reef is prohibiting fishing, but boats and other large vessels are out on the water and can still cause destruction with their boats. Collisions, anchor drops, or boating in shallow waters and the corals can be smashed or stressed. More traffic on the waters means more people with greater waste. Not everyone is environmentally aware or care about their actions of leaving trash behind them in the waters. Last opposition is that the Great Barrier Reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park but in reality less than half of the reef is protected. The WWF describes the new protection plan, “The zoning plan increased the proportion of marine sanctuaries — places where commercial and recreational fishing are prohibited — from 4.6 per cent to 33 per cent of the Marine Park.” (WWF) The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created in 1975 and only upped its protection area in 2004.
Today, The Great Barrier Reef is still alive in the waters off the coast of northern Australia but it will soon be diminished if the destructive habits of humans along with the uncontrollable natural disasters continue to happen. An immense change needs to be made to save the Great Barrier Reef for future generations. More protection by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would be the first step. The Queensland Government has started to help regulate chemical runoff as well as announcing, “$23 million is allocated to help local community and industry groups to reduce and improve the quality of runoff from reef catchments.”(Ecos Dec 08) The Great Barrier Reef is an amazing, natural marine home for so many different creatures it would be a great shame if it got destroyed by both human and natural actions.
Buzzle.com. (2010). Facts About The Great Barrier Reef. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from
Ecos. (Dec 2008). Taking a Chemical Load off the Great Barrier Reef. (Electronic Version). Issue 146. Pg. 5
Ecos. (Feb/March 2009). Unprecedented Slowdown in Coral Growth. (Electronic Version) Issue 147. Pg 5.
Ecos. (April 2009). Breaking down Herbicide Residues. (Electronic Version) Commonwealth. 148. Pg. 7
Ecos. (Jan 2007). Overfishing Threatens Great Barrier Reef’s Sharks. (Electronic Version) Issue 134, pg 6.
Gordon, Iain. (Sep2007). Linking Land to Ocean: Feedbacks in the Management of Socio-Ecological Systems in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments. (Electronic Version) Hydrobiologia 591(1). Pg 25-33.
Helvarg, David. (Sep/Oct 2000). Australia: The Reefs are Going Down Under. (Electronic Version) E- The Environmental Magazine 11(5). 31
Prezeslawski, Rachel., Ahyong, S., Byrne, M., Worheide, G., Hutchings, P. (Dec 2008). Beyond Corals and Fish: The Effects of Climate Change on Noncoral Benthic Invertebrates of Tropical Reefs. (Electronic Version) Global Change Biology 14(12). Pg 2773-2795.
University of Michigan. (n.d.) Human Impact on the Great Barrier Reef. Found March 29, 2010 from
Weller, Even., Nunez, M., Meyers, G., Masiri, I. (Aug 2008). A Climatology of Ocean–Atmosphere Heat Flux Estimates over the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea: Implications for Recent Mass Coral Bleaching Events. (Electronic Version) Journal Of Climate. 21(15). Pg 3583-3871.
WWF. (2005). Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan. Retrieved April 2, 2010 from
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