The Collapse of the Great Barrier Reef
Imagine what it would be like to look down into the ocean and see brilliantly-coloured fish darting in and out of the world’s largest area of coral. Do you know where that is? If you thought of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, you were right. For many years, the Great Barrier Reef has been known as the biggest and best coral reef in the world, but that might not be the case for much longer. The Great Barrier Reef is collapsing, and unless something changes it might soon be gone.
The Great Barrier Reef is a huge coral reef covering 348,000 square kilometres off the coast of Australia. Some parts are 2000 metres deep, while others are fairly shallow. Like other coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is actually made up of a lot of different types of plants and animals. Corals look like small trees with branches sticking out in all directions, but they’re not. The brightly-coloured tree-like shapes are the skeletons of animals, but instead of being on the inside of the body, like for people, they’re on the outside. Altogether, the Great Barrier Reef has four hundred types of coral and 1500 types of fish, as well as many other animals.
All of that amazing life is in danger. Scientists believe that about half of the corals on the Great Barrier have died in recent years, probably because of human activity. Coral reefs have always lived on cycles. Storms or diseases would kill some of the plants and animals, but then they would recover. Recently, the recovery process has been very slow or has even stopped entirely in some areas. The long-term loss of the corals has happened mainly since people started clearing trees off the land in the late 1800’s to make room for farming and raising animals.
Because of these activities, mud, fertilizers and other toxic substances started to wash into the lagoons and then out to the reefs. Slowly the plants and animals on the reefs started to die. Pollution from boats and other sources might also have been part of the problem.
Why does it matter if the Great Barrier Reef disappears? The loss could mean the disappearance of some species of animals, such as the marine turtle. Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles live in the Great Barrier Reef. The loss of the turtles might then affect another type of animal, which would then change another type, and the problem could eventually affect the food that people eat. Scientists are unsure of exactly how coral reefs affect life on land and in water, but they know that the reefs are important.
Almost every area of the world is facing pollution problems because of human activity. Oceans, rivers, and land are dying because of chemicals and garbage that people throw away. However, you can help. Keeping your own home and school clean and trying not to pollute the environment might prevent disasters like the collapse of the Great Barrier Reef.
If the plight of the environment and the Great Barrier Reef interests you, why not consider a career as an Environmental Scientist? An Environmental Scientist applies their knowledge of the natural world to help preserve and protect nature.