Great Barrier Reef: A Heartbreaking Discovery

healthy_coralI was so excited to come to Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, it was one of the main reasons I came. Chrystal blue waters. Abundant fish. Neon-colored coral. Woot Woot!

The World’s Largest Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a tremendous life form:

  • · Comprising more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands
  • · Encompassing an area of 133,000 square miles
  • · Containing 1,500 species of fish and 400 species of coral
  • · Creating the world’s largest single structure made up of living organisms

But the reef is suffering – from increasing water temperatures, pollution, coral bleaching and crown-of-thorn starfish. A 2005 study estimated that 95% of the reef’s coral will be dead by 2050. That’s bad news.

dead_coral_2The worse news is that I think it’s already 95% dead. I was so looking forward to the dive of my life, when I descended into utter grayness. The bottom of the ocean was littered with what looked like broken antlers. It was a graveyard. And it was heartbreaking.

The reef is basically an accumulation of coral skeletons that form a structural base for living corals to grow. And while corals can regenerate, it takes nearly 1,000 years for a reef to add just 1 meter of height.

Since most of the coral destruction is due to increasing water temperatures, there is little we can do. In fact, as little as a 1.5 degree temperature increase can do irreparable harm to the reef’s coral. El Nino years, in particular, cause huge devastation to the reef.

A friend I met on the dive boat visited the reef in 1999 and he said it was totally different – colorful, bountiful – alive. And while I did see my first sea turtle, a sting ray and a black-tip shark, there was little spectacular about the dive. We both agreed we wouldn’t pay to dive the reef again. So sad.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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