A combination of factors caused by climate change is causing severe damage to one of the world’s greatest wonders

Quick Notes

  • The increase of disastrous weather events is battering the Great Barrier Reef

  • Overfishing, increased water acidity, and heavy rainfall are all damaging the ecosystem

  • Though the Great Barrier Reef is declining rapidly, it isn’t beyond saving if green choices are made globally

Climate change has dominated news channels alike across the globe in recent months, and with good reason. As humanity’s industrialization of our natural world increases, so does the toll our natural wonders have to pay. One such natural wonder is none other than the Australian Great Barrier Reef.

Notable for its intricate shapes and twisting forms, not to mention the astounding colors, the Great Barrier Reef has been considered somewhat of a natural miracle ever since it was first discovered in 1770. Still, in 2019, the Reef is facing dangerous environmental changes that could mark its decline.

A variety of negative factors are damaging the natural wonder, and they’re all related to climate change. From ocean temperatures rising to increased acidity levels in the water itself to the ever-increasing amount of weather disasters occurring, one thing is sure: the Great Barrier Reef is taking a firm hit from global warming.

Extreme weather, heavy rainfall, and increased ocean acidity is all causing severe damage to the Barrier Reef

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of extreme weather occurrences. In the past five years alone, there have been a total of four hurricanes that have been categorized at level five (the highest severity level a hurricane can reach). In addition to this, cyclones have battered the structure of the Reef, destroying many of its natural formations.

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It isn’t just storms that are causing the Reef trouble either. Increased heavy rainfall means that much of the sediment usually confined to the shore drift further afield. This damages the unique marine biology native to the Reef. In addition to that, the increased amount of freshwater in the Reef throws off the natural balance required for sea life to thrive.

Perhaps what the Reef is most well known for is its enormous variety of coral, providing the unique structures that many of the local wildlife call home. Unfortunately, because of the increasingly compromised Australian climate, the acidity of the ocean water is changing.

The Reef is facing dangerous environmental changes that could mark its decline

This heightened acidity means the ‘skeleton’ of the coral structures cannot form properly. Without these fantastic natural formations taking place, many of the species that call the Reef home are left without any form of habitat. This includes one thousand five hundred species of fish and a third of the world’s entire population of soft coral.

Recent reports regarding the Reef’s deterioration show that it continues to degrade, but it isn’t irreversible

The future of the Great Barrier Reef is clearly in peril. The increase of ocean temperatures is causing bleaching of the coral, and an increase in the population of a type of starfish that feeds on coral is only making matters worse. Foundations are in place to preserve the Reef, but it’s hard to fight a battle on a global scale.

The Reef undergoes an evaluation of its health every five years. In the last review in 2014, it was established that the Reef was undergoing dramatic deterioration due to coral bleaching, increased ocean temperatures, and overfishing. All of the main factors contributing to the Reef’s decline are caused by human intervention, either directly or indirectly.

Eighty percent of the Reef has been damaged in some respect over the past two years

The most recent evaluation of the Reef’s health, in 2019, confirmed that deterioration has continued and is still in dire condition. A mass bleaching event has damaged approximately half of all the colored coral found in the Reef, and eighty percent of the Reef has been damaged in some respect over the past two years.

Luckily, the report found that these damages are not insurmountable or irreversible, but it all requires a drastic change in how we treat our world. Much of the Great Barrier Reef’s deterioration is caused by climate change. By reducing our carbon footprint, we can do our own bit to protect this natural phenomenon.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

It isn’t just the Barrier Reef that’s under assault from climate change, much colder climates are suffering too

Luckily, climate change is being taken seriously, and here are some of the best projects tackling it head-on

There are other factors beyond the planet’s changing climate that are killing our coral reefs, and they’re still our fault