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Scientists Warn that Current Efforts Are Not Enough to Save the Great Barrier Reef

by Staff Contributor on May 31, 2017

Experts have recently warned that the existing plans in place to save the Great Barrier Reef are no longer capable of protecting the site from damage. Thus, it has been suggested that conservation efforts be shifted to something along the lines of a backup plan with the intention of maintaining the reef’s “ecological function” rather than vainly attempting to salvage it.

Scientists have informed an Australian government committee that the present strategy to protect the reef, the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, is impossible to achieve when considering the mass bleaching events that have recently taken place. This is particularly true as the plan fails to include steps to specifically counter climate change.

The AU$2 billion Reef 2050 plan was initially divulged in March 2015, with the goal of consistently improving the “universal value” of the largest coral reef in the world every decade leading up to 2050.

However, in a meeting last week, scientists warned the advisory committee that supervises the plan that its aim of improving the reef environment is unattainable following the consecutive and repetitive bleaching events which took place in 2016 and 2017—a horrific sequence which constituted the direst coral die-off ever recorded.

The most recent figures regarding the coral death due to the bleaching events even higher than predicted, being that an even more significant coral decline is anticipated to occur over the course of 2017, according to Russell Reichelt, who is the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The previously projected 22 percent death of shallow water corals has now escalated to 29 percent, according to the latest figures.

In light of this, experts claim that modifying the plan so that it is working towards a more realistic intention of sustaining ecological function would be more beneficial while admitting that the general health of the reef will wane over time, base on statements given by Michael Slezak for The Guardian.

“The concept of ‘maintaining ecological function’ refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form,” detailed a spokesperson for Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who continued on to add that “noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today.”

This message comes across as being relatively ambiguous, and even defeatist, but unless more serious and well thought-out efforts are devised to alter the Reef 2050 plan get enacted soon—including plans to directly address climate change in the strategy, as scientists have advocated for in the past—it may actually be the outcome of the situation.

The warnings come after a report released by the Reef 2050 Plan Independent Expert Panel earlier on this month, which asserted that cutting emissions of greenhouse gases should be a major focus in protecting the reef, as well as efforts to boost coral resilience and reef ecosystems.

“[I]n our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now,” the panel communicates in their written work.

The panel continues on in their publication to state that: “The planet has changed in a way that science informs us is unprecedented in human history. While that in itself may be cause for action, the extraordinary rapidity of the change we now observe makes action even more urgent.”

Ian Chubb, who is the Panel Chairman and former Chief Scientist of Australia, opines that the Reef 2050 Plan requires a considerable renovation to directly deal with the elephant in the room: warming oceans, which are the major reason for coral bleaching.

“We can’t be passive bystanders in this. We’re the custodians of the reef and its ecosystem for the world,” he asserted in his interview with Adam Morton at The Sydney Morning Herald.

“We don’t say toss out the plan and start from scratch–action on water quality, sediment, and fertilizer remain important–but events mean it needs to be shifted,” emphasized Chubb.

Featured Image via Flickr/lockthegate

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Staff Contributor
Born and raised New Yorker with foreign parents; aftermaths include: having the tendency to switch languages mid-sentence, an endless stock of funny stories (normally founded on cultural/linguistic misunderstanding), a love of travel and reading, an excessive amount of curiosity (not nosy, just intrigued!), a sincere appreciation for food and coffee, and the ability to react to just about any situation with an infectious bout of laughter.
  • Kimi Mier

    What a shame. It was always on my bucket list to scuba dive here.

  • Patrick Sullivan

    I always feel worse after reading articles like these…I still hold out hope that we can turn things around.

  • Julia Hess

    Super sad to read this as well. Went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef 2 years ago and the colors weren’t as vivid as I had seen in old pictures. We need to do better on saving the ecosystems

  • Amanda Macolino

    It’s devastating to hear that the original plan to save the Great Barrier reef must be shifted because of climate change. But it’s encouraging to hear that Australian scientists are still trying their best to conserve it.

  • Maya Asregadoo

    This is horrible news, but the Reef 2050 project is very intriguing to me.

  • Chelsea Jones

    Sadly climate change is one of the many roots to the coral reef problem. If we can not come together to help change that then we have to get ready to say goodbye to a lot of amazing things in our environment. I wish this could act as a wake up call to our nations!

  • Stefanie Wad

    Last I went to the GBR, a part of the reef my group went to was dead and gray.

  • Corrada Spatola

    I’ve studied oceanology and the GBR heavily during my college career. I think Reef 2050 Plan will require a considerable renovation to deal with coral bleaching.

  • Madi Kantor

    We seemed to have forgotten about our environment and are letting it slip away from us too quickly. We must make drastic changes before it is well too late

  • Alyssa

    This is so sad! I hope we can find a way to save the reef, it would be a tragedy to loose

  • Sharon Amaro

    I wish humans weren’t so selfish, for this reason, our future generations will never see this in person

  • Madeline LePage

    one of my dreams in life is to go diving at the great barrier reef, so hearing things like this is very upsetting

  • Ni-Cole Sprouse

    Heartbreaking article, humans are destroying all the natural beauty around us.

  • Ryan Widomski

    Really sad to see nature’s beauty slowly vanish

  • Yilun Cheng

    We need to take drastic steps to address these issues!

  • Prasun Srivastava


  • Usman Kakangi

    Fascinating; The Great Barrier Reef, one can wonder if it ever comes up in any of the Climate Change summits.

  • Torie Jones

    This is concerning.