“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.”
By now, many of you will have read the obituary for the 25-million-year-old Great Barrier Reef.
From the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery, to soil erosion, to peak oil, to deforestation, human systems are good at squandering natural resources and bad at understanding how long it takes for them to replenish.
Today, it seems that we can add the Great Barrier Reef to that list. As the obituary poignantly puts it:
The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.
The reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene epoch. Its first 24.99 million years were seemingly happy ones, marked by overall growth. It was formed by corals, which are tiny anemone-like animals that secrete shell to form colonies of millions of individuals. Its complex, sheltered structure came to comprise the most important habitat in the ocean. As sea levels rose and fell through the ages, the reef built itself into a vast labyrinth of shallow-water reefs and atolls extending 140 miles off the Australian coast and ending in an outer wall that plunged half a mile into the abyss. With such extraordinary diversity of life and landscape, it provided some of the most thrilling marine adventures on earth to humans who visited.
No one knows if a serious effort could have saved the reef, but it is clear that no such effort was made. On the contrary, attempts to call attention to the reef’s plight were thwarted by the government of Australia itself, which in 2016, shortly after approving the largest coal mine in its history, successfully pressured the United Nations to remove a chapter about the reef from a report on the impact of climate change on World Heritage sites. Australia’s Department of the Environment explained the move by saying, “experience had shown that negative comments about the status of World Heritage-listed properties impacted on tourism.” In other words, if you tell people the reef is dying, they might stop coming.
This last paragraph is perhaps the most damning. That we selected (and continue to select) leadership that actively works to put our collective heads in the sand, and that we fail to take them to task for it.
But maybe, like the cod stocks, we can stabilize the situation, (perhaps also at 1% of the original), and then start to reverse the damage. This article suggests that the Australian government is starting to pay attention, still far less than is actually required, but perhaps a start.
So, what are you doing to make a difference here? How are you influencing decisions that actually make a difference here? Who are you publicly calling out for making short-sighted long-term damaging decisions?
The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Bumblebees are dying.
It is time for us to actually do something about it.
It is time for you to actually do something about it.