Time for talk is over: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef must be saved
One of the world’s great treasures is dying because of climate change, yet politicians and sceptics refuse to do anything about it
Doubts about climate change have been given grim visual proof on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. An abnormal rise in sea temperature has caused bleaching of coral, the result of a loss of the colourful algae that provide oxygen and nutrients. Scientists contend that the damage is so severe that 35 per cent of the major tourist attraction is either dead or dying. There is surely no better evidence of the need for action to cut the carbon emissions behind global warming.
The central and northern parts of the reef have been hit by the bleaching, the third such occurrence in 18 years. Coral is fragile and can easily be stressed by changes in conditions like temperature, light and nutrient levels in surrounding waters. Scientists say recovery could take decades and in some places, the damage may be permanent.
Planned expansion of coal mines in the region and increased shipping have exacerbated concerns. An independent scientific task force said last month that dual action on climate change and improving water quality “will be critical for the long-term health of the reef”. Existing conservation measures were considered insufficient. Pledges for extra funding to protect the reef made by politicians campaigning for next month’s federal election are being viewed sceptically by environmentalists.
Australia’s current policies on cutting greenhouse gas emissions will make attaining promises made at the Paris climate change summit challenging. Introduction of a carbon tax would help, but is a political hot potato and more than 70 per cent of electricity is still generated by burning coal. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s right-wing government is divided on whether climate change exists. Environment officials recently cut a section about the reef from an international report on the impact of climate change on World Heritage Sites for fear it would harm the region’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. If the matter is not properly acknowledged and resolutely tackled, one of the world’s greatest treasures will continue to suffer.