A draft report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is at a vital crossroad between life and death. The report is being presented at the upcoming meeting of the world heritage committee in July in Krakow, Poland. While Unesco praised Australia’s government for improving water quality, more work needs to be done. Recently, two coral bleaching events affected almost two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef while in the northern part of the reef there was a steady decline.
The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be the Earth’s largest coral system with almost 3,000 individual reefs and nearly 900 islands over 1,400 miles. It is situated off Queensland, Australia in the Coral Sea. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef can be seen from space. It supports many marine wildlife and was chosen in 1981 as a World Heritage Site. Mostly sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, human activity still impacts the natural wonder. Since 1985, it has lost more than half of its coral.
The Guardian reported that UNESCO had grave reservations about the Great Barrier Reef. The draft report went on to state that while Australia took many strides in helping the natural wonder, the country would not be meeting the goals of the report by 2050 without improving the water quality. Several points, in particular, included Australia’s delayed response to slowing “agricultural pollutants” into the natural wonder and “important legislation” that regulates land clearing was not passed yet by the Australian government, according to the Unesco report.
The Australian government established an investment strategy to improve water quality. The report went on to encourage the country to meet all the plan’s targets, The Guardian stated. Climate change is the “most significant overall threat” to the reef’s future, the report said. The bleaching events that recently occurred did nothing to relieve the concern about the reef. The farmland that leads to the Great Barrier Reef is currently being used for sugar cane plantations which use fertilizers that cause harm to the reef. Unesco would, instead, like to see the land be used for another form of agriculture that would be less harmful to the environment.
While climate change does not directly fall to the Australian government, water quality can, Jon Brodie, water expert, said. The water quality may not deter bleaching events in the future but, Brodie said, it can “improve the capacity of the reef to recovery.” NPR reported that while first-time visitors to natural wonder sees plenty of marine wildlife, it is “hard to assess the state of the coral,” unless the visitor is a scientist.
Water temperature, according to John Edmondson, a marine biologist, if the Coral Sea’s temperature is too high, the Great Barrier Reef gets “stressed.” When the coral gets stressed, brighter colors appear. While “counterintuitive” brightly colored coral is a sign, it is “starving to death.” For now, Unesco has urged Australia to pass legislation to help the natural wonder or risk losing it forever.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy UNESCO