Can We Save the Coral Reefs?
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the biggest coral reef system in the world and home to more than 1,500 species of fish. With roughly 900 islands and over 2,900 individual reefs, it is the only living organism you can see from space!
Something that big may seem invincible, but it’s actually in immense danger. Climate change, rising sea temperatures, deforestation, agricultural run-off, coral mining, unsustainable tourism, over-fishing, and even the use of non-reef-safe sunscreen are all threatening its existence.
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And the Great Barrier Reef is not alone…according to UNESCO, if life continues as usual, then all 29 coral-containing World Heritage sites will no longer exist as functioning coral reef ecosystems by the end of this century. Is there any hope?
Nature is a huge force that has the incredible power to repair and regenerate itself. In fact, an international study has shown that climate solutions that harness the power of nature could account for 37% of all actions needed by 2030 to reduce global warming.
What’s more, despite numerous mass bleachings, coral reefs have demonstrated the remarkable ability to recover, especially in areas where there are less local stressors (i.e. human activities, such as agricultural run-off, over-fishing, etc.).
Projects Saving the Coral Reefs
We humans are pretty awesome at pushing for positive change as well - there are now many foundations working to save the coral reefs in Australia and the rest of the world! Below are just a couple of examples of Australian initiatives working towards the protection of our beautiful marine ecosystems.
Greening Australia’s Reef Aid Project addresses the two biggest threats to the future of the Great Barrier Reef - climate change and poor water quality.
It’s estimated that each year, millions of tonnes of fine sediment flows into the sea from eroding land. The flow of sediment has the effect of choking the reef’s fish and coral, creating blooms of algae and hampering its ability to recover from bleaching. Additionally, Australia has lost over 50% of its coastal wetlands, which would normally have filtered out a large amount of this sediment.
Consequently, Greening Australia is in the process of stopping sediment at its source by revegetating eroding land and restoring vital coastal wetlands in order to protect the coral reefs and to improve overall water quality. In doing so, they plan to reforest 10 million hectares across Australia, which will sequester 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year! Ultimately, they aim to reduce climate change by cutting Australia’s carbon emissions by 20%.
To complement the work Greening Australia is doing to prevent future harm to Australia’s coral reefs, the Reef Restoration Foundation is working on restoring the damage that has already been done. They use a process similar to that used by gardeners, where cuttings are taken from plants and used to grow new ones.
They start by taking small cuttings from healthy corals that survived the mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. Therefore, the corals are hopefully more resilient to climate change conditions and challenges, such as higher water temperatures. These are then grown on coral tree frames in protected ocean nurseries close-by to damaged reefs.
The tree frames enable the coral cuttings to grow at an accelerated rate and, after 6-12 months, they are introduced to a damaged reef to promote its recovery and regeneration. The project has shown great success - from the 24 pieces of originally harvested coral, they grew 246 new coral colonies and they now have around 650 corals growing in their Fitzroy Island nursery.
What Can We Individuals Do to Save the Coral Reefs?
Reading about the work done by these epic foundations is so inspiring, but what can we do to help? For starters, we can make donations to the projects that are already doing such amazing work. Additionally, if you prefer something more hands-on, then volunteering is another great way to make a contribution.
Moreover, there are many ways in which you can change your personal habits to lead a more reef-friendly lifestyle. For more information on what you can do to save the coral reefs, check out our advice on reef-safe products and practices.