The Great Barrier Reef

January 13, 2017

Located off the coast of north-eastern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef has been present for about 25 million years and contains over 3,000 individual reef systems, over 100 different islands, and over 600 types of coral. There, one can find several species of marine animals including fish, turtles, molluscs, starfish, dolphins, and sharks.

When one pictures the Great Barrier Reef, they probably envision something bright and colorful with many shades of pink, orange, and purple filled with lots of colorful fish swimming in between all the coral and algae. While that certainly was what the reef looked like for several million years, the last 18 years have brought it harm and changed the way the reef once looked.

With the recent rise in oil drilling and factory production, much more pollution has been added to the atmosphere. The atmosphere itself and several bodies of water are greatly affected by pollution, including the part of the ocean where the Great Barrier Reef resides. Pollution not only affects the fish, but their habitats as well.

Dumping waste into bodies of water is a huge issue everywhere. There have been some attempts to regulate it, but it’s not going to be stopped entirely. People need places to dump their waste. In Australia, corporations have to get dumping permits before they can get rid of their waste. Only about 30 permits are distributed a year and they must be administered by the Department of Environment and Energy or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has also made several  attempts to preserve the reef and potentially reverse the effects of the pollution. The organization is attempting to spread the message to cut down on farm pollution and coastal industrialization too close to the area. They are also trying to implement more control on fishing in the area so that other nearby creatures  like sea turtles and dolphins are less threatened.

Considering the vast amount of marine life that lives in the area, the Great Barrier Reef’s pollution has been much more apparent than most water pollution. The reef has lost both its bright colors and its abundance of residents. Why is that? It’s all thanks to a process called coral bleaching. Coral’s vibrant colors are present because of algae that lives in the coral. When water temperatures increase, or when the water is heavily polluted, the algae dies, stripping away the color from the various species of coral in the area. When one goes to visit the famous site now, they see a grey, dying reef with no inhabiting animals. What was once a beautiful tourist attraction is now a dead habitat.

Pollution is not the only thing to blame for the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef. Recent studies have found that the coral bleaching may also be happening, in part, due to a particular species of starfish in the area that eat coral, known as the “Crown of Thorns” starfish, due to their spiky appearance. A plethora of these starfish have been found in the area feeding on all of the fast-growing coral. Since there are so many, new coral does not get a chance to grow before it gets eaten. In order to control the population, divers are being sent into the water to inject chemicals into the starfish that causes them to break up after about a day. The chemical does not harm any of the other marine plants and animals in close proximity, and if the starfish population is kept under control and pollution is better regulated, the reef may yet have a chance to grow again.

 

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