Unprecedented Destruction: Half of Great Barrier Reef Has Disappeared in Last 30 Years

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in little more than a generation.

marine turtle at the Great Barrier Reef
Blissfully unaware of the dangers to its habitat, and its own safety, a marine turtle swims at the Great Barrier Reef. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

I don’t mean to pick on Australia, but the news from Down Under has really not been good lately. We recently noted that Queensland’s Galilee Basin has nine new thermal coal mines in the pipeline that could push Galilee’s carbon dioxide output to 700 million tonnes per annum.

Aside from the environmental impact of all that CO2, there’s the related problem of a lot of that coal being exported. Reuters reports that, “Greenpeace estimated port expansion could more than triple Queensland's coal export capacity by 2020 from 257 million metric tons (283.29 million tons) now. That would mean as many as 10,000 coal ships per year could make their way through the Great Barrier Reef area by 2020, up 480 percent from 1,722 ships in 2011.”

As you can imagine, that’s very bad news for this world heritage site that the GreatBarrierReef.org describes as, “One of Australia's most remarkable natural gifts, [it] is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world's largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.”

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In fact, Reuters states that the world's largest coral reef “is declining faster than ever and coral cover could fall to just 5 percent in the next decade . . . Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in the northeastern city of Townsville say Australia's Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in little more than a generation. And the pace of damage has picked up since 2006. Globally, reefs are being assailed by myriad threats, particularly rising sea temperatures, increased ocean acidity and more powerful storms, but the threat to the Great Barrier Reef is even more pronounced, the AIMS study published on Tuesday found.”

How pronounced? To quote AIMS chief John Gunn: “In terms of geographic scale and the extent of the decline, it is unprecedented anywhere in the world.”

This past June, Naharnet reported that “UNESCO urged decisive action from Australia to protect the Great Barrier Reef from a gas and mining boom, warning it risked being put on its list of world heritage sites deemed ‘in danger’ . . . ‘The outstanding universal value of the property is threatened and decisive action is required to secure its long-term conservation,’ the committee warned.”

They added that, “Gladstone Harbor—a coal export hub with huge shipments to Japan, India, South Korea and China—is undergoing a major expansion requiring dredging works which activists say is harming marine life.”

The Great Barrier Reef Experience has also referenced the impact on marine life, noting that “six of the world's seven endangered species of sea turtle frequent the waters of the Reef along with the planet's largest sea mammal, the Blue Whale,” as well as the dugong (better known as a sea cow).

Reuters observed that all of these “concerns have put pressure on the authorities to figure out how to protect the fragile reef.” Let’s hope so.

What do you think Australia should be doing to try and avert further destruction of the Great Barrier Reef?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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