Great Barrier Reef threatened by rising ocean temperatures

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
THE BURNING of fossil fuels has resulted in an increase of greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn, have increased ocean temperatures. Rising temperatures pose a threat to the sensitive ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, pictured above, and its inhabitants.

Madeline Pfeifer

Staff Writer

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, one of the world’s largest living structures, is renowned for its immense beauty. Coral reefs are intricate systems comprised of various organisms, making them incredible natural wonders.

However, the unfortunate fact of the matter is this: the Great Barrier Reef, including the many sea creatures that call it home, is facing tremendous peril. Scientists have recently reported that enormous sections of the reef have been killed due to increasing seawater temperatures. This amount of damage is unprecedented, and it serves as further evidence of the disastrous effects of global warming.

The culprit? Fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which ultimately results in the warming of ocean waters. Scientists have been cautioning against the usage of fossil fuels for decades now, yet little has actually been accomplished to combat the issue of the intensifying emissions.

The reef is extremely sensitive to heat; an increase in temperature by only a couple of degrees Fahrenheit can pose a severe threat to the organisms. The ocean has warmed, on average, 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century. Notably, last year marked the highest sea surface temperature across the reef on record.

The Great Barrier Reef is faced with additional threats, like pollution, which have been recognized by the Australian government. Measures have been taken in hopes of lessening these risks. However, simply improving water quality is not enough to prevent the decline of the reef. Sea warming is the major source of the Great Barrier Reef’s demise, and the reef is faced with yet another hazard. With the election of Donald Trump, global plans that have been aimed at effectively dealing with the reef crisis are now in danger of being eradicated.

There is no denying that fossil fuel development is the reef’s largest threat. Yet, ironically, Australia still supports the industry and continues to serve as the world’s largest coal exporter. The country is in favor of a coal mine, which would be the largest the world has seen, to be built inland from the reef.

The deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef poses a domino effect of consequences. Not only is the reef itself in great distress, but Australia’s economy is predicted to be impacted as well. Australia relies heavily on tourism revenue, and the reef provides the county with about 70,000 jobs. Additionally, poorer countries depend on reef fish as a major food source, meaning that human lives are literally at stake.

The global reef crisis does not guarantee the extinction of all coral species. Many corals and sea creatures are apparently attempting to adapt to the Earth’s warming by moving toward the poles in search of cooler water. However, at the intense rate that the world is heating, the survival of the reef cannot be reasonably expected. The depressing truth is that a lot of the damage done is seemingly irreversible.

Reef experts, climate scientists and environmental activists hope that this crisis serves as a much-needed wake-up call. They warn that major international efforts to combat climate change are obligatory, and even that may not be enough.

Want to write for the science & tech section? Email the editor: elizabeth.harasym@scranton.edu

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