More than 90% of Great Barrier Reef coral surveyed this year was bleached in the fourth such mass event in seven years in the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, Australian government scientists said.
Bleaching is caused by global warming, but this is the reef’s first bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern, which is associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority said in its annual report released late Tuesday that found 91% of the areas surveyed were affected.
Bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of the coral in the famed reef off Australia’s eastern coast.
So, why is this something we should worry about? And why is the Great Barrier Reef so important?
What is the Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and is located in the Coral Sea, close to Queensland, Australia.
The reef is so big, in fact, that it can actually be seen from space!
To understand the Great Barrier Reef, however, it’s important to note what it’s made out of.
Seeing as it is a coral reef, you may have guessed it is made of coral. But, did you know that corals are living creatures?
Corals are marine invertebrates that actually live together to form coral reefs.
In other words, the Great Barrier Reef is even more impressive as it is the largest structure to be made up of living things.
A Home for Many
Alright, let’s talk about why this coral reef is so vital for many populations to thrive.
Believe it or not, the Great Barrier Reef is actually an ecosystem for many sea creatures. In other words, this is where they live.
Specifically, thousands of animals including many kinds of fish, crustaceans, sea turtles, dugongs, whales, dolphins, and of course many types of coral live here.
The reef plays an important role in the lives of these animals, and without it, they would not have a habitat.
A Form of Protection
Interestingly, the Great Barrier Reef, and other coral reefs, actually serve as a form of protection for the coastline and surrounding communities.
The Great Barrier Reef, due to its size, helps to absorb the shock from waves and storms in the ocean. Simply put, it’s kind of a short wall that prevents the waves from coming to the coastline at full force.
Without the reef, the surrounding communities would likely witness a lot more natural disasters and damage from the ocean.
A Purifying Filter
Though you may have been surprised by the other qualities of the Great Barrier Reef, don’t let your guard down yet, this structure has a lot more surprises than you’d think.
For example, the reef actually serves to help purify the water and air.
This is because corals help to filter out the sediment in the ocean through their feeding process. As a result, the water around them is much cleaner.
Similarly, algae often grows on corals. Much like other plants, algae get their nutrients from photosynthesis, a process that uses carbon dioxide.
In other words, the algae absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Further, as you may know, carbon dioxide contributes to climate change. So, the reef actually helps to slow this process.
A Hero in Science
The Great Barrier Reef has also played a role in the medical industry. Precisely, it has helped to develop many essential medicines.
Scientists have used chemical compounds found in the reef to help formulate these life-altering drugs and improve the quality of life for many.
Medications that have been developed thanks to the reef include those that treat heart disease, asthma, cancer, and arthritis.
An Economy Kickstarter
Lastly, the Great Barrier Reef is actually an important part of the economy. Due to the fact that many species of fish live in the reef, it helps to support the fishing industry.
As you may know, this industry is vital to the survival of many communities and the financial structure as well.
Without the reef, there would likely be fewer fish and, in turn, a struggling fishing industry.
Likewise, the reef certainly attracts thousands of tourists each year. This means more people visit Australia and support the businesses, therefore contributing to Australia’s economy.
Though at first glance it may just look like a pretty structure in the sea, it is clear the Great Barrier Reef is an essential part of many facets of life.
Unfortunately, climate change and other threats pose dangerous risks to the reef. Without it, many communities and lives will suffer.
Be sure to educate friends and family on the importance of the Great Barrier Reef so we can work to preserve it!