Coral reefs in Australia form a large ancient habitat for living things, thus making the region one of the fascinating sites across the world. The Australian and the Queensland land government collaborate in managing the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef forms the world’s largest coral reef ecology. The large size of the reef calls required great responsibility in a bid to manage and ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem.
This paper discusses the array of activities by human beings that are threatening the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef. Apparently, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced threats from a plethora of human activities, economic explosion, and climate change.
A current report by the Great Reef Strategic Assessment (GRSA) conducted in 2014 affirms that even though coral reefs maintain their resilience as one of the most preserved marine ecosystems across the globe, there has been a superfluity of human activities, thus causing the decline of the reefs (Pyers, 2011). Consequently, the reef zone has encountered extreme effects of cyclones and floods, which compromise the capacity of the ecosystem to counter and cope with these alterations and other human interferences.
Poor water quality mounting from land runoff, coastal construction, impacts of exploration, and unregulated fishing pose threats to the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. This pressure surpasses the chances of the reef to recover from the ever-emerging disturbances. This paper concludes by identifying that further threats will decline the outlook of the reef zone and worsen the situation coupled with endangering the extinction of marine life, causing an imbalance in the ecosystem, and triggering global warming.
The Australian coral reefs provide one of the most valued natural features in the world. Following the ecological importance of the coral reefs, under the management of Australia and Queensland government, zoning of the coral area was done along the coastline, thus creating the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef covers approximately 2300 kilometers along the coastline with an enormous stretch of coral reefs.
The reef zone provides habitat for a large array of fish species, seabirds, coral, sea vegetation, and turtles, among other wildlife animals. Apart from marine life, the coral reef zone provides unique scenery, which attracts huge numbers of tourists, agriculturists, and a host of commercial activities.
Following the overwhelming environmental sustainability challenges and the ecological significance of the reef area, the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Center in 1981 (Veron, 2008).
This move was arrived at in an effort to regulate the ever-increasing human activities threatening the outlook and sustainability of the coral reefs. This paper will show that currently, several natural and human activities endanger the extinction of coral reefs in Australia, and if drastic measures to restore sustainability are not taken, the current situation of poor water quality, coral decline, climate change, and wildlife extinction ought to worsen.
Benefits of the Coral Reefs
The significance of the coral reefs in Australia goes beyond the alleged sustenance of a balanced ecosystem. For centuries, the coral reefs have had different functions influencing and enhancing human activities on the coastline. For instance, coral reefs play a critical role in cushioning the coastlines from erosion impacts of the strong wave currents and storms.
The strong network of extensive individual coral reefs has the capacity to calm strong water currents, which can cause excessive destruction to sea walls in their absence (Sweatman, Delean, & Syms, 2011). Coral reefs are home for diverse living organisms such as seabirds, snakes, whales, fish, and turtles, among other aquatic organisms. Coral reefs supplement the marine food chain since they provide nitrogen, and they are food to crown-of-thorns starfish. They also help in atmospheric balancing through carbon and nitrogen-fixing.
Excess emissions of the amount of carbon entering the water masses are taken up by the coral reefs, hence avoiding a possible glaciation of the ice sheets, which might lead to a rise in sea levels. This aspect highlights why marine species flourish in the reefs. This scenario has an economic factor for the Australian fishing and tourism industry. Most fishes find shelter in the reefs for fear of predators, thus making it easy for the anglers to know their localities.
The Australian economy is estimated to benefit from the Great Barrier Reef with more than 1.5 billion dollars annually from the fish and tourism industries. The reef region is also a fortress for scientific research and the creation of drugs coupled with the purification of water and air. The diverse number of species provides academicians with novel knowledge.
Threats due to the decline of coral cover
Apparently, based on 1985-2012 World Series Data collected by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) on reef situation, a report of 2,258 surveys of 214 reefs shows that half of the coral cover is estimated to have deteriorated since 1985 (De’ath, Fabricius, Sweatman & Puotinen, 2012). A number of causes have been attributed to coral loss, but the important ones include tropical storms, cyclones, bleaching from ocean heating, and the coral-eating starfish.
The rising concentration of nutrients from run-off chemicals such as fertilizers is associated with the thriving of the crown-of-thorns starfish, which consumes the coral reefs. Overgrazing and poor landscaping allow run-off water to enter the water masses, thus compromising the water quality. Floods, cyclones, and bleaching are all effects of climate change.
Research shows that the last century has undergone extensive transformations that threaten a decline of coral reefs. The increasing carbon emissions will cause temperatures to increase up to about 2 – 3.5 degrees Celsius (Pyers, 2011). This trend is expected to accelerate the frequency and magnitude of storms, reduce ocean PH to more acidic levels, and lead to adverse drought spells and floods.
Corals digest carbon dissolved in water through the process of calcification. Due to the increased burning of fossil fuels and agricultural activities around the Great Barrier Reef, atmospheric carbon rises, seawater PH goes down, and calcification becomes complex (Veron, 2008). This aspect increases the formation of products that poison corals, and most of them die.
Once the coral is dead, aquatic life is most likely to follow the trend unless it adopts new coping measures. If temperatures go down, some of the corals survive, but the question is for how long this trend will go on. A possible extinction of the coral is likely if recovery measures are not taken. The past has not been desirable, as the effects of global warming have been adverse.
Currently, the progressing degradation of the Australian coral reefs has attracted attention from different sections from both local and global quarters, such as the Commonwealth and UNESCO. The ever-growing anthropogenic threats combine with natural calamities such as storms and cyclones to accelerate the frequency of degradation of the reefs (Watson, 2011). The authorities can do very little to control natural events, and regional policies alone cannot cushion the large-scale risks emerging from the impacts of global warming.
Nonetheless, the governments of Australia and Queensland are assisting by regulating grazing and agricultural activities to minimize terrestrial runoffs. These measures are also targeted at enhancing water quality through proper land use. Meanwhile, further zoning plans are being incorporated, and the Great Barrier Reef marine park and other adjacent preservation zones are targeted for expansion (Pyers, 2011).
The reformed zoning policies determine the activities that should be carried out in different specified areas. This plan underscores the necessity of protecting the ecosystem, coupled with delinking conflicting activities. For instance, mining and gas extraction are termed as potential threats to coral reefs, and they are currently unlawful.
Most studies show that whatever ought to happen to the coral reef condition in Australia in the near future is subject to the past and current human activities. By following past events and trends in climate change, it becomes difficult to reverse the effects of climate change, and very little can be done to slow the threats of coral extinction. If the upward trend in temperature rise remains consistent, reef mortality through bleaching will definitely increase (De’ath et al., 2012).
The analysis further shows that the rate in decline of coral cover ranges around 3% annually in the absence of natural factors such as bleaching, storms, and cyclones. This aspect means that if the anthropogenic threats are addressed and carbon cap measures are put in place, then the ecosystem can raise the capacity to recover and cope. In addition, improving water quality and using precautious measures in agriculture can help to protect further coral decline.
In 2003, the Australian government identified the link between poor water quality and the outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish and is committed to enhancing water quality (Sweatman et al., 2013). The poor water quality is attributed to the inflow of chemical effluents that pollute the water and endanger the lives of most organisms. In addition, they raise nutrient levels necessary for the growth of crow-of-thorn starfish.
Coral cover within the Great Barrier Reef is evidently declining, and thus fast mitigation is necessary to safeguard the listed World Heritage area in Australia. Given the procedural work in enforcing such measures, it is unlikely to have impacts in the short term (Veron, 2008). However, direct action is not only necessary but also required to minimize the growth of crown-of-thorns starfish and extra loss of corals.
Nevertheless, with or without improved mitigation, the coral cover will continue to decline mainly because past activities have majorly increased ocean temperatures and seawater acidity.
Marine life may not necessarily decline, but the severe conditions will compel the living organisms to adjust to new modes of survival since the food web will be distorted. This situation will tamper with the atmospheric cycle. Carbon entering the atmosphere will no longer be sufficiently absorbed in the water bodies, thus increasing air and water pollution (Watson, 2011).
The construction of industrial structures around the Australian reef, such as port, requires a lot of money. Lobby groups against human-related disturbances in the Great Barrier Reef have turned pressure to the funding institutions like the Deutsche Bank not to fund any more structures in the reef. The results are positive, as planned projects have delayed due to the insufficiency of finances. For example, in 2013, Glencore Xstrata withdrew its plan to construct a coal export terminal in Fitzroy Delta.
Further lobbying through media, non-violent demonstrations, and civic enlightenment might be necessary as opposed to inactivity as the Great Barrier continues to decline. The absence of the financial boost to invest has greatly reduced human activities around the areas marking huge steps toward reducing greenhouse gas effects.
Significant degradation of the coral reefs is expected to continue over time, and with no restrictive measures in place, loss of biodiversity will happen sooner than predicted. As corals die, the same will happen to marine life, since the number of the reefs will not be in a position to support marine life sufficiently, and it will respond by going down. This scenario makes local extinction possible.
These changes in the world’s most treasured reef are projected not only to harm marine life, but also the wellbeing of human beings who have benefited from the reef ecosystem for centuries. Nevertheless, it is not too late for careful and precise measures to be taken. The issue of global warming is beyond the control of a few interested groups or even specific governments. This aspect means that the international community should combine efforts and enforce the carbon task, which will transfer the carbon burden to specific polluters.
Therefore, stringent measures to slow, if not reverse, all threats emanating from different dimensions should be enforced. International and local communities should take responsibility to improve the capacity of the Great Barrier Reef to recover through environmental preservation policies.
De’ath, G., Fabricius, E., Sweatman, H., & Puotinen, M. (2012). The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. PNAS, 109 (4), 17995-99.
Pyers, G. (2011). Biodiversity of coral reefs. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
Sweatman, H., Delean, S., & Syms, C. (2011). Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two decades, with implications for longer-term trends. Coral Reefs, 30, 521–531.
Veron, J. (2008). A reef in time: The Great Barrier Reef from beginning to end. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Watson, M. (2011). Coral Reefs. Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, 1(4), 317-319.