RIP Great Barrier Reef

By: Briana McDonald

Over the last week, the world has mourned the death of the Great Barrier Reef, rejoiced its revival, and overall been confused about the state of the world’s largest ecosystem due to the back-and-forth over its livelihood. The Australian government recently released its report on the Great Barrier Reef, giving it the grade of “D” for the fifth year in a row.

The rumor that the Great Barrier Reef is dead went viral earlier this month when Outside Online writer Rowan Jacobson published an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef. “The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness,” he wrote. “It was 25 million years old.” The obituary quickly spread across the Internet, inspiring various angry writings towards humans, the government, and the environment alike. Due to global warming and this summer’s El Niño, our oceans are heating up. This causes a chain reaction. Due to the warmth of the water, the coral expels all the algae that lives within it, turning all the coral stark white. This is known as coral bleaching, and, on some reefs, is the cause of more than 50% of existing coral dying. Not due to bleaching itself, though – bleached coral only means white coral. The actual danger comes when coral expels so much algae that it misses its food source and starves to death.

Scientists are currently insisting that much of the reef is still alive and that certain parts of the ecosystem are thriving. Kim Cobb, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, spoke with Stuff to explain this. “I know from my own site that there is a lot more resilience baked into the system then we can hope to understand right now and that out of the rubble will come a reef that may not look exactly like it looked before, but may be better adapted for future temperature change.”

Conservationists often praise viral shocks like this, because it gives the world the scare that we need to improve our environmental habits, even if it is short-lived. For a while, everyone will be alarmed and concerned about the state of our waters. Dumping will decrease, people will turn off the water while brushing their teeth. Inevitably, though, nothing will change, unless we become alarmed and informed enough to rally our lawmakers for stricter environmental protections.

So, for now, we are staying optimistic and looking forward to the Great Barrier Reef’s (hopefully) long life. Improving our water conditions and preventing global warming will help, but right now the bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is a natural process that may aid evolution and make the reef stronger for the future.