The Great Barrier Reef has undergone its most widespread bleaching event in history. This is the third mass bleaching event to occur in the past five years, indicating the immensely destructive effects of climate change. Despite climate change deniers’ minimization of the event’s severity, the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is a serious issue because it could potentially destroy one of Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems, negatively impact the Australian economy, and is a critical example of climate change effects.


Climate Change Denial

There are countless groups and individuals who correlate events such as the recent Great Barrier Reef bleaching to reasons other than anthropogenic climate change (climate change originating from human activities). Those concerned with the welfare of the corporate world and generally in support of a free market and consumerism tend to deny climate change. Whatever the reasons for these beliefs, scientific evidence has proven that anthropogenic climate change certainly exists. This recent coral bleaching is a prime example of its effects and should not be attenuated.


Coral Bleaching

To understand why three bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef in the last five years is a serious issue, we must understand what coral bleaching is. Coral bleaching is caused by warm ocean temperatures. One branch of coral is actually the home of many small animals, called polyps. The colors in corals are created by tiny organisms that live in the polyps called zooxanthellae, which also provide energy to the polyps through photosynthesis. When ocean temperatures rise, zooxanthellae start producing a toxic chemical, so polyps get rid of their plant-like partners to avoid being poisoned. This results in the color being drained from the corals, which is why they appear “bleached.” If water temperature decreases within one week, zooxanthellae can return to corals and restore them. However, if temperatures continue to be abnormally high, the corals will starve to death. Additionally, bleached corals are more susceptible to disease, which is another cause of death.


The Reef Ecosystem

Corals provide the home for about 25% of all marine species, despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor. Many smaller organisms live and hide in corals, and others depend on corals for food access. If some of these species vanish, it could lead to a collapse in the intricate marine food web surrounding coral reefs and a significant loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity is essential to maintain a productive ecosystem, and without it, the entire Great Barrier Reef might meet its end.


The Australian Economy

The Great Barrier Reef brings in a significant profit for Australia. An approximated $6 billion is made just from reef tourism and the fishing industry each year. If the bleaching pattern continues, tourists will not be able to experience the vibrant marine life of the Great Barrier Reef. This can result in a drop in tourism as marine life is a key reason why tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef. The drop in tourism will not just affect the business of water recreation companies, but also the hotels and restaurants. 

Additionally, as previously mentioned, the death of coral will result in a collapse in the marine food web. This will create a significant impact on the fishing industry and the supply of seafood worldwide as Australia exports around $1.2 billion in seafood products each year. The Great Barrier Reef is of considerable importance to Australia’s economy, and bleaching can create economic issues for the country.


The World

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This shows how important this natural ecosystem is on a global level. As mentioned earlier, this bleaching event is the third to take place in the last five years and is the most widespread. Global temperatures have been rising for years, and this event is a signal of Earth’s extremely poor climate conditions. If we don’t act now, events such as this bleaching will become the norm.


What Now?

Australia has focused massive efforts on protecting the reef for years. Various programs aim to help the reef, such as the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, which connects experts from all sectors to work together in helping the reef adapt to climate change. There are also countless NGOs, such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, committed to protecting, monitoring, and saving the reef. Anyone can donate to help fund conservation programs. All of these efforts aside, the root of the problem is still with society’s lifestyle, so it again comes down to reducing carbon emissions to ultimately prevent rising ocean temperatures.