Australia is home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Great Barrier Reef.
Protecting the reef is essential for the achievement of Goal 14: Life Below Water. But how much do you actually know about the infamous reef?
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and the only living thing which can be seen from space. 2,900 reefs and over 900 islands make-up the 2,300km long area in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland.
There are a fantastic amount of different species of living creatures in the reef’s waters, including 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, more than 1,500 species of fish, 17 species of sea snakes, 6 species of sea turtles, over 100 species of sharks and rays, 400 species of corals and 500 species of seaweed, plus many more!
The Great Barrier Reef attracts approximately two million tourists each year, generating an estimated $6.4 billion and employing over 60,000 people.
Issues Facing the Reef
There is an extensive list of endangered species which call the Great Barrier Reef home. One such creature is the hawksbill sea turtle, which has been classified as critically endangered. It is important for the health of our ecosystem and the longevity of the reef that we do not lose any species.
There have been many political discussions over the past 12 months on the topic of coral bleaching of the reef. Coral bleaching is, quite literally, the whitening of coral. This bleaching is due to increased water temperatures, killing the algae which protects the coral. In March of last year, it was discovered that 95% of the reefs are severely bleached. The key to solving the issue is conservation and mitigating climate change through the achievement of Goal 13: Climate Action. By addressing climate change, sea temperatures will be lowered, allowing the reef a chance to recover, a process estimated to take at least 10 years.
Target 14.1 requires that we, by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. The achievement of this target is vital for the health of the reef, which experiences degradation due to farm runoff and pollution from mining. Farm runoff includes runoff from fertiliser and pesticides, both of which can be harmful to the reef.
Another threat to the reef is the crown-of-thorns starfish. These starfish prey on coral and, although naturally occurring, large outbreaks have been problematic. These outbreaks are due to the overfishing of the starfish’s predators. The achievement of Target 14.4 by 2020 will have a significant effect on this. This target mandates that we effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.
It is our duty as responsible global citizens to protect this incredible natural wonder, not only to conserve the beauty of this world, but to ensure the sustainability of our planet for us and for future generations.