We could actually save the Great Barrier Reef


Last month, the con­struc­tion of a new coal mine in Aus­tralia was blocked in order to save coral reefs and pro­tect the great bar­ri­er. While it may seem like a no-brain­er, it is a sig­nif­i­cant vic­to­ry for envi­ron­men­tal laws, as it is the first time that these laws have been used to block coal exploita­tion in the coun­try.

What threatens the coral reefs today

Whether we’d like to believe it or not, the biggest threat to the the great bar­ri­er reef and corals all around the world, is not tourism, is not over-fish­ing and is not over-exploita­tion of the areas. The main cul­prit, you might have guessed, is glob­al warm­ing and water acid­i­ty. Long sto­ry short, the water has become too hot for corals to thrive in their nat­ur­al habi­tat.

Ocean reefs pro­tect shore­lines and their com­mu­ni­ties from the ever-chang­ing sea. Strong waves, storms and even sea hur­ri­canes can be buffered through con­tact. They ensure the safe­ty of many coastal com­mu­ni­ties, as well as their liveli­hoods, that depend on the activ­i­ties relat­ed to the reef’s preser­va­tion and bio­di­ver­si­ty, such as tourism.

Tourist div­ing, Pho­tographed by ultra­mari­nafo­to

Groundbreaking and traditional tech to the rescue

In order to save coral reefs, many meth­ods have been devel­oped over the years. If used in coor­di­na­tion and if costs can be reduced (which experts like Sophie George, from the Capri­corn Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil, guar­an­tee we can), these meth­ods could eas­i­ly help pre­serve, pro­tect and, in a few years, repop­u­late coral reefs. Some of these include:

Cross-breed­ing: cross-breed­ing corals arti­fi­cial­ly in order to make them stronger and more resis­tant to warmer tem­per­a­tures would allow to save more than a hun­dred species of coral.

Cryo­geni­cal­ly frozen coral: Instead of cross-breed­ing, we could also freeze coral at an ear­ly stage, pre­serv­ing them until it is time to rein­tro­duce them.

Replant­i­ng with robots: In order to repop­u­late effi­cient­ly, robots could take charge. A small­er bud­get would then allow a much big­ger regrowth, being less labour exten­sive. Robots could take charge of grow­ing and graft­ing new coral onto exist­ing reefs, so that they may final­ly merge as a sin­gle colony and live under the sea.

Coral seed­ing: Coral growth can take up to 10 years. Accel­er­at­ing coral growth at the Aus­tralian Nation­al Sea Sim­u­la­tor and pro­tect­ing grow­ing coral from out­side dam­age, allows sci­en­tists to aid in coral regrowth, speed­ing it up by at least half.

Healthy coral reefs, Pho­tographed by Li Fei

Egg cryo­ge­ny is the most recent devel­op­ment on that front. Sci­en­tists have final­ly been able to suc­cess­ful­ly pre­serve. This means that, when the oceans become hab­it­able for these species again, they will be eas­i­ly rein­tro­duced into their habi­tat. It has bought a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time for pol­i­cy-mak­ers to address the prob­lem and com­ply to the 2030 Cli­mate Tar­get Plan and the Euro­pean Green Deal.

Endanger the reef, endanger lives?

Accord­ing to the Great Marine Reef Park author­i­ty, 90% of the reefs sur­veyed have been touched by bleach­ing. How­ev­er, the Great Bar­ri­er Reef is not actu­al­ly con­sid­ered endan­gered.

While UNESCO, the Unit­ed Nations Edu­ca­tion­al, Sci­en­tif­ic and Cul­tur­al Orga­ni­za­tion, con­tin­ues to push for the gigan­tic liv­ing organ­ism to be added onto the pro­tec­torate’s list, com­mu­ni­ties are scep­ti­cal about the impact it would have on their every­day lives.

A lot of coastal com­mu­ni­ties rely heav­i­ly on tourism and reg­u­lat­ing it fur­ther could trans­late into shut­ting down activ­i­ties essen­tial to their liveli­hoods — as well as aban­don­ing active projects for aquat­ic flo­ra restora­tion. On the oth­er hand, mak­ing the list could mean oth­er sorts of fund­ing and advan­tages for the region, such as fur­ther legal pro­tec­tion from exploita­tion.

As indi­cat­ed by the Reef Restora­tion Foun­da­tion, reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions is the only way to suc­cess­ful­ly address cli­mate change as a whole and save coral reefs for good.

Explore more objec­tive but pos­i­tive Earth sto­ries in our ded­i­cat­ed sec­tion.

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Written by Malu Benjamin
March 9, 2023

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