Our earth is home to many beautiful, diverse, and amazing attractions. This includes the seven natural wonders of the world which are agreed upon as being among the most breathtaking natural sights on the planet. The Great Barrier Reef, one of these wonders, is one of Australia’s most impressive and spectacular natural landmarks. Touted as the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, the structure comprises an amazing variety of marine organisms including 6 species of marine turtles, 24 species of seabirds, over 30 species of marine mammals, 350 coral species, 4,000 species of mollusks, 1,500 fish species, over 43,000 square kilometers of seagrass meadows, 2000 species of sponges, 630 species of echinoderms, and more. New species are found every year and according to some estimates, we are probably familiar with less than 50% of the total number of species that thrive in the spot. Therefore, it is no wonder that the destination attracts tourists from far and wide.
Coral reefs do more than just protect animals. These living organisms play a vital role in our environment by recycling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to create their hard skeletons. So, like trees, coral reefs help slow down climate change. Moreover, these ecosystems protect shorelines by acting as a buffer between rough weather and the coast. According to the National Ocean Service, the absence of this barrier could cause damage to homes located close to the ocean by storms or even by waves. The rich environment of coral reefs also helped scientists in making great advancements in medicine. According to The Nature Conservancy, the study of marine life fostered the development of treatments for diseases such as asthma, soft-tissue sarcoma, and certain lung cancers.
Unfortunately, the Great Barrier Reef is in a serious trouble at present. A large part of the reef’s coral cover already died, and the human-induced climate change is held responsible for this. The rise in temperatures is resulting in the seawater getting warmer, which in turn is affecting the coral reefs. The warm water causes the corals to expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues, thereby turning them completely white. This is called coral bleaching which is happening frequently every year, leading to their death. Estimates suggest that the total reef system would be gone by 2050, and the gradual death of this magnificent ecosystem could have a devastating effect on the entire planet.
A lot of work is being carried out each year to ensure that the delicate ecosystem of the reef is preserved for future generations. Central to this effort is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a multi-use park system established in 1975 meant to protect the reef and the species within it.
Recently, a team of researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science initiated a project aimed at protecting the Great Barrier Reef. They designed a sun shield 50,000 times thinner than a human hair to sit at the water surface, directly on top of the coral reefs. The thin film acts like an umbrella that partially blocks the sun rays. It is biodegradable and is made of calcium carbonate, the same substances that coral skeletons are made of. The shield has been only tested in a lab. Scientists think that this mechanism could help corals mitigate bleaching events.
According to a recent news, Prince Charles called for a blue economy to promote sustainable use of ocean resources and save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The prince, who is passionate about the environment said that investment in projects promoting coral reef health and their survival against global and ocean warming was crucial. “This will need to be a central aspect of the rapidly emerging concept of a sustainable ’blue economy’, through which sustainable economic development is achieved via the wise use of ocean resources,” he told the Australian Financial Review in an interview.