The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s pride. Not only is it a beautiful tourist destination, it is also a natural national treasure. Over the last few years, though, we’ve seen a gradual loss of coral from the reef, and in this piece we give out what scientists are calling a three-point plan for its preservation.

Coral reefs are hotbeds of biodiversity. Not only are they beautiful and function as great tourist attractions, they also display marine life on Earth in all its glory, and give us opportunities to study ecosystems in their natural forms.

In Australia, we have the Great Barrier Reef, a 2300-kilometer behemoth that is even visible from outer space. It has thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over six hundred types of hard and soft coral.

However, there is evidence to suggest that human activities like fishing and climate change are affecting the quality of coral in the reef. Here is a three-point plan to preserve its beauty and pristine nature, lessons gleaned from global studies of other reefs that apply to the Great Barrier Reef as well.

1. Control overfishing

It used to be believed that fishes damage corals by biting them, but subsequent research has shown that corals recover naturally from fish bites. On the other hand, when there is uncontrolled overfishing, reefs experience a boost in nutrient pollution, because fish are not there to feed on algae and bacteria anymore. This increase in algal and bacterial populations is found to be a big driver of coral mortality. So it’s important to control the amount of fishing in and around the Great Barrier Reef so that the delicate balance between nutrient pollution levels and fish populations is preserved for the safety of the corals.

Great Barrier Reef

2. Protect the environment around the reef

This is a more general strategy aimed at decreasing water pollution in general around the reef. General best practices like rehabilitating catchment areas, preventing clearing and erosion, protecting natural waterways, limiting herbicide and pesticide run-offs – these all contribute to decreasing the nutrient pollution levels in the reef. This general reduction in ocean pollution will also result in a natural increase of fish populations, which will feed into the positive reinforcement cycle by eliminating excess nutrient pollution from the reef, thus looking after the corals.

3. Controlling climate change

This is another reason to champion the human fight against climate change. While it looks like the wheel of progress cannot be stopped or even slowed down, we must find ways to protect the Great Barrier Reef against warming ocean temperatures. Warmer temperatures tend to bleach the corals in the reef, and over the twenty seven years between 1985 and 2012, scientists have measured a gradual loss of as many as 51% of corals in the central and southern regions of the reef. Microbial balance plays a bigger role in preserving the corals, but warming temperatures are also a significant factor.

Indrasish Banerjee

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