Is the Great Barrier Reef actually dead?

The Great Barrier Reef has been trending online for a few days now. Maybe you have heard that the world’s largest coral reef has died aged 25 millions years old. Maybe you have also heard that yesterday the reef was given a D on a report card for its overall health by the federal and Queensland government for the fifth year in a row.

However, it is not all over for this ecosystem yet (What a Great Barrier Relief!).

The above reports are greatly exaggerated despite mass bleaching occurring and affecting almost all parts of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef, like most coral structures around the world, is under severe stress. A mass bleaching event coupled with warmer oceans as a result of climate change is one of the factors harming the corals around the world. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the heat partially due to the strong El Niño in 2015/2016 and partially due to the continuing impacts of global warming was responsible for the corals expelling their colourful symbiotic algae, leaving behind just the white of corals during the most recent bleaching event. Without algae the coral cannot get the nutrients it needs, which if not remedied can ultimately lead to starvation.

But the fact that not all parts of the reef have succumbed to bleaching means that recovery is possible. Additionally, some corals are also more bleached than others and perhaps more importantly every coral that has been affected by bleaching doesn’t automatically die.

According to preliminary findings published last week, only 22% of corals on the Great Barrier Reef have died due to the worst mass bleaching event on record. On the bright side, that means that more than three quarters of the corals are still alive and in urgent need of protection. Yes, some corals have indeed perished completely, but we know from past research that some corals may be able to adapt and recover from the brink of death. In fact, large sections of the southern half of the reef were able to bounce back from the 2016 bleaching.

For me, the worrying thing is this over-exaggeration of the Great Barrier Reef being dead. Some people may believe the reef is past recovery and will abandon hope of protecting it. I guess on more of a positive note its impact has been felt through millions of shares on social media. In other words, people are talking. Now that we have shown to care for the reef through our grievances we now need to make a change and send the Great Barrier Reef on the road to recovery.

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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