© Global Change Institute

Destruction on the Reef – Act now

With another wave of destruction hitting the Reef, how much more can our national icon take before it’s too late?

Dear Prime Minister Turnbull,

 

The Great Barrier Reef is in crisis and urgently needs your leadership to save it.

The Reef is Australia’s most beloved natural wonder but our generation risks seeing it terminally decline on our watch.
The Reef that generations of Australians have grown up to love is an underwater carnival of more than 1,500 species of fish, one-third of the world's soft corals, six of the world's seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals, including the vulnerable dugong.

Tragically, the reality is that we’re losing the Reef we love. In the last 15 months the Reef is becoming a pale imitation of its former self. It has been devastated by two coral bleaching events, a cyclone, and pollutant laden floods, which have caused destruction at a scale never seen before.

 

Please take this opportunity for your government to step up in these vital areas:

 

1 - Turn down the heat - we need to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by moving to clean renewable energy, and stop government subsidies which currently encourage more coal, oil and gas to be burnt.

2 - Clean water for recovery - we need to work with farmers to reduce chemical pollution run-off and keep trees standing.

3 - Safe havens for our species - Turtles, fish and dugongs are under stress and some will lose their homes - so we need to support our turtle hospitals and wildlife carers, and reduce the pressure from commercial fishing.

 

If you act on this plan urgently, the Reef can thrive once again. But if you don’t, then it could perish on your watch.
Sincerely, one of the thousands of Australians asking for action to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

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The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. Renowned for its beauty, vibrant corals and an array of astounding marine life, from ancient sea turtles to elusive dugongs. It’s iconic. One of the world’s greatest tourist destinations. But, right now, all this is suffering. There is hope if we act quickly and our representatives make change, but we have to work together to achieve it.

"Mass coral bleaching events in consecutive years are devastating body blows for the Reef. And now it has been hit with another double whammy –
Cyclone Debbie and the following polluted flood waters that came after it."

The last 15 months has seen the Reef smashed by the combination of rising sea temperatures and a cyclone. In 2016, 22% of the Reef’s corals died – an unprecedented loss in such a short period of time.

 

Then, in March 2017, the Reef suffered mass coral bleaching for a shocking second year in a row. Now, the already fragile corals, and the animals that call them home, have been hit by devastating cyclone winds and polluted floodwaters.

 

Satellite image of Fitzroy River flood plume, Queensland on the 8th of April 2017 © European Space Agency Sentinel 2 Mission

Estimates reveal that in just two years, two-thirds of the Reef’s corals have been damaged – this bleached coral is the ghostly face of climate change, caused by burning polluting coal, oil and gas.

Corals can recover – if we give them a chance. But the window to take action is rapidly closing. This is a critical moment, so thousands of Australians are coming together to demand action from our representatives.

Together we must protect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site. Please sign our petition urging the Australian Prime Minister to act now. You’ll send a powerful message that you care for the Reef, you want to see action, and as one of its custodians you want to ensure it is protected for the future generations.

Together, we’ll send a powerful message that will be too loud to ignore: No Australian wants to say goodbye to the Reef.

Coral, coal, and climate change

Climate change - driven by the mining and burning of fossil fuels like coal - is warming our oceans and bleaching coral reefs worldwide, including our Great Barrier Reef.

If we act now – the Reef’s true colours can have a fighting chance to recover. If we don’t, climate change will continue to have severe impact on water temperatures, and if carbon pollution isn’t reduced, the Reef will see severe coral bleaching more frequently – which not only impacts coral communities but also the marine life that depends on it.

 

Coral communities have a good capacity to bounce back but they need a decade or more between severe impacts.”

Dr Terry Done

Former Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science

What is coral bleaching?

When we mine and burn coal we produce dangerous greenhouse gas pollution that causes our planet, including our oceans, to heat up. If the water stays too hot for too long, our vulnerable corals lose their colour (bleach) and often die.

Corals are actually tiny animals called polyps. Microscopic algae called zooxanthellae live inside their cells. These algae turn sunlight into energy and up to 95% of the nutrients they make are leaked to the coral.
Early signs of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching at Moore Reef on February 27, 2017 © Global Change Institute
In return, the zooxanthellae have a safe place to live and receive nutrients from the coral’s waste. However, in certain conditions this mutually beneficial relationship becomes destructive.

When the water is hotter than the average for as little as four weeks, combined with bright sunshine, the algae go into overdrive and can produce toxic levels of oxygen.

As a self-defence mechanism the corals shed the algae, and their colour along with it. (Coral polyps are actually clear, it is the algae that give coral its beautiful colour.)

Without the algae, the coral's bright white skeleton is revealed through its transparent tissue. This is what we call ‘bleaching’.

If temperatures return to normal relatively quickly, corals can regain their algae and survive. But if not, corals no longer receive enough food. They go into a downward spiral, losing fat and other energy reserves, becoming weak, and susceptible to disease.

When bleaching happens across a whole reef it is known as ‘mass bleaching’ and when bleaching is prolonged, whole reefs can die.

It is possible to maintain the rich vibrancy, health, and true colours, of our beautiful Reef.

But only if we rapidly shift to clean, renewable energy. The window to save the Reef is closing and we need to act fast.

Australia must speed up the transition to clean energy

 

Beyond addressing global warming, improving water quality and proper fisheries management are also vital to reef recovery.  

 

Because of this WWF is dedicated to establishing a fund to repair Great Barrier Reef catchments and assist farmers to adopt cleaner, more profitable practices.

Fish and coral in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia © Shutterstock / Debra James / WWF

© Shutterstock / Debra James / WWF

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