By Adam Hushin

The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is home to thousands of species of various sea life from sharks and whales to, of course, coral. Tourists flock to the reef to behold, with their own eyes, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, while they still can.

According to The Guardian, the reef has lost 50 percent of its coral due to a barrage of threats including “rising sea temperatures, increasing ocean acidification, swelling numbers of cyclones in recent years, pollution problems triggered by fertiliser and sewage run-offs from farms and cities, and damage caused by the development of ports on the east coast of Australia.”

The Australian government has done little to face the crisis and has only recently seemed interested in getting involved as the potential economic impacts have become so stark- the country earns £2.6 billon per year in tourism money associated with the reef according to The Guardian.

The International community has made efforts to fight the ecological disaster however.

The International community has made efforts to fight the ecological disaster however.

In June 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee, met in Bonn, Germany to discuss the state of the Great Barrier Reef.

The committee ruled that the Australian government must report back to UNESCO in 18 months on it’s progress towards preserving the reef.

Coral in the Great Barrier Reef, Eddy Reef off Mission Beach. Photo Credit: Paul Toogood/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)
Coral in the Great Barrier Reef, Eddy Reef off Mission Beach. Photo Credit: Paul Toogood/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The Australian government has announced the “Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability plan” as their primary effort to accomplish the goal of protecting the reef.

However Greenpeace, the global environmental agency believes this plan is an overwhelming disappointment, and will not be the solution that the reef desperately needs.

“Until the plans for the massive coal mine and port expansion are dropped, it’s impossible to take Australia’s claims that they are protecting the Reef seriously,” the Greenpeace Political Advisor for Australia Pacific, Jess Panegyres said in a press release. “The government’s Reef 2050 Plan has loopholes so big you can drive coal-carrying ships through them. The plan has effectively carved out a space for massive coal mines and port expansion that will create a highway for coal ships straight through the Reef.”

One key concern that Greenpeace has is that the Reef 2050 plan still allows coal mine and port expansion.

This allows for something called ‘dredging’ to continue. Dredging means digging up the sea-bed to deepen channels for ships entering ports.

Dredging, runoff, and other polluting elements will now not only be allowed to continue, but will expand because of the Australian government’s choice to put their coal industry above the protection of the reef according to the thinking of Greenpeace activists.

Moreover, lack of action like in this case is killing the reef ecosystems according to the group.

Greenpeace activists protest the coal industry in Australia in 2013. Photo Credit: FusionVision/Flickr (CC By 2.0)
Greenpeace activists protest the coal industry in Australia in 2013. Photo Credit: FusionVision/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

“We need to protect reefs from the individual and cumulative impacts of poor choices on the land, the sea, and in the atmosphere,” Louise Fraser, a spokesperson with Greenpeace Australia Pacific said. “We also need to ensure that politics and industry are not hindering reef protection, or the science that studies it.”

Greenpeace is campaigning for 100% renewable energy by 2050 and in Australia they are also campaigning against the expansion of the coal industry in Queensland.

Greenpeace isn’t the only one who recognizes the negatives in the government’s plan.

“The government wants to have coal mines operating in 60 years’ time, and still hopes to have a healthy reef,” Terry Hughes, Professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University wrote in a piece for The Conversation. “The science says otherwise: either we plan to adequately protect the reef and transition away from fossil fuels, or we abandon the reef and develop the world’s largest thermal coal mines. We can’t possibly do both.”

As awareness of this issue rises, so does the demand for the reef to be protected.

As awareness of this issue rises, so does the demand for the reef to be protected.

Overall, the stability of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as dozens of other endangered ecosystems around the globe, is a major problem that is not getting the attention that it critically needs.

This unfortunate fact begs the question, how long can we afford to ignore these problems?

If you would like more information on the Great Barrier Reef, or on efforts to help preserve it, go to www.takeanotherlook.gp, or www.greenpeace.org.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: gjhamley/ Flickr (CC By 2.0

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