Australian officials plan to redouble their efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef from the effects of global warming.
The world’s largest coral reef system is under threat from rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and violent tropical weather. Scientists also have struggled to contain outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, a polyp-eating predator that can threaten the reef’s health.
In response to these dangers, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is floating a 30-year plan to protect the natural wonder.
The proposal calls for controlling surface runoff and shore-based water pollution that can harm the reef, along with improved coastal infrastructure planning. The draft also outlines rehabilitation efforts to be taken out to 2050.
The Australian and Queensland governments are planning to spend up to $2 billion over the course of a decade as part of an initial phase of reef protection and recovery efforts. The new draft plan was opened for public comments last week.
It’s a revision of a plan issued in 2015. The department said the updated strategy “includes a greater focus on climate change and its impact on the Reef” and takes into account recent coral bleaching events that occurred after 2015.
The Great Barrier Reef is a major tourist draw that creates more than 64,000 jobs for the state of Queensland and about $4.6 billion in annual economic benefit, according to the Australian government. It is the world’s largest structure built by living organisms, and it’s among the most biodiverse regions of the world’s oceans. The Great Barrier Reef is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The draft “Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan” points to climate change as the single greatest threat to the future of the Great Barrier Reef. Getting greenhouse gas emissions under control will be critical to its future, the department argues.
“Global warming and the climate change it drives is the most serious and pervasive threat to the Reef,” says the draft. “The future long-term outlook is critically dependent on limiting global temperature rise to the maximum extent possible.”
And yet the draft plan acknowledges there is little Australia itself can do to limit or reverse global warming or halt the rise in ocean temperatures—a prime factor in recent mass coral bleaching events.
Corals grow through a symbiotic relationship between animal coral polyps that build the hard calcium carbonate skeletons of the reefs and single-celled organisms that survive via photosynthesis and feed the polyps nutrients. Higher water temperatures cause polyps to expel these single-celled zooxanthellae and turn corals white, thus the term “bleaching.” This increases coral mortality.
Harmful bleaching episodes at the Great Barrier Reef occurred in 2016 and 2017. The most recent bleaching event happened earlier this year during the Southern Hemisphere summer. Its impact…