A new study will shock anyone who's in awe of the undersea world (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?): the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral.
But the current devastation of this natural treasure may be about to get a whole lot worse. Right now, Australian companies are trying to push through a proposal to build the world’s largest coal port right over the reef – and mining magnates who stand to make billions in profits are moving fast to secure funding.
A staggering level of destruction
The new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that if this rampant demise of the world's largest reef continues at the same rate, coral cover will be halved again by 2022. Already tens of thousands of species have lost their habitats; unless this is stopped now, the biodiversity of this world heritage site could be obliterated.
There is no mystery about what’s causing these unprecedented levels of destruction: we are. Nearly half the damage was the result of increasing coastal storms – a clear symptom of global warming. The rest of the damage can be traced to run-off from pesticides in agriculture along the coast, which has caused a booming population of crown-of-thorns starfish (a predator to coral), and coral bleaching, caused when the ocean water gets too warm.
Amazingly the coral could still recover from this trauma, but the study concludes that it would be a long, slow process.
OK then, you say – let’s stop wasting time and get to work on stopping this downward spiral before it's too late. But it may be about to get much worse.
From bad to worse
The report comes at an inconvenient time for the Australian government, as it is driving through plans for coal and natural gas export facilities in the area that would push the already vulnerable reef to the brink. By 2020, a massive coal port could allow up to 10,000 coal ships per year, meaning a 480% increase from 2011 of ships going through the Great Barrier Reef area.
And let's not forget this will also flood the market with 705 million more tonnes of carbon pollution a year. This project alone will produce more fossil fuel emissions than those currently pumped out by Australia, the UK and Canada put together.
Yet the science could not be clearer: if we keep pumping out coal, emissions will continue to climb, warming the planet and causing sea temperatures to rise. This would devastate the reef – and the world. Scientists estimate that if water temperatures increase by between two and three degrees Celsius, 97% of the reef would be killed off within a year.
Greenpeace Australia brilliantly sums it up in this video:
A glimmer of hope?
The money to finance the coal ports isn’t yet secured. So Australian companies are trying to get the US Export-Import bank (Ex-Im) to provide heavy equipment to clear the way for massive ships to dock.
Now a widespread outcry about Ex-Im bank’s possible involvement is spreading. Help stop this madness and ensure there is never a Great Barrier Reef coal lane by signing the petition below and sharing this story with everyone you know.
Sources: Australian Institute of Marine Science, Think Progress, CNN, NOAA, BBC, Greenpeace, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post