Finding our Reefs

dory1“Finding Dory” will no doubt be a hit a decade after the enormously popular and well received “Finding Nemo”. It too is excellently executed and emotionally touching; and frankly, a sense of nostalgia might just convince most of us to see it. We still quite clearly remember the tranquil waters and vibrant marine life that linger memorably behind the film. Of course, “Finding Dory” again presents us with these familiar landscapes that surprise and delight at every turn. Pixar’s advances over these years adds polish and vibrancy to these scenes.

Of course, in 2016, such scenes no longer exist.

The Great Barrier Reef is no longer the icon it was for Australia and the world. Still the largest reef system in the world and still impressively the largest structure made by living organisms, the reef is in full decline. This is rather alarming but is no real surprise. Scientists have over the years stressed the declining state of the reef. From coral bleaching to mass extinction, the reef’s fate has always been grim. Just last month (June), Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, in partnership with the University of Queensland, declared the reef’s only endemic mammal, a small rodent, extinct and wiped out from its only known location. Meanwhile, the ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies found that a recent mass bleaching has killed 35% of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.

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“I can’t even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive – the smell of milliosn of rotting animals.”

This is no natural death; decades of research point to climate change as the root cause of coral bleaching. While occasional spot bleaching has been documented, an event of such scale easily surpasses previous records. As the temperature of water increases, coral polyps stress out and disassociate with symbiotic algae that are responsible for the vivid colours of coral reefs. As these photosynthetic algae are responsible for most of the coral’s energy, the coral dies, leaving behind a stark landscape of ghostly skeletons. The result of their demise is catastrophic — ecosystem meltdown. From shrimps that hide amongst the coral to small fish and marine birds, the collapse of the habitat is merciless in its destruction. Ultimately, humans are affected as fishing resources drop and the terrestrial ecosystem is altered. While recovery is possible, years pass before much improvement occurs, and in current circumstances, recovery seems unlikely to happen at all.

Despite decades of records and research, many are reluctant to acknowledge the grim conclusions. The Australian government is recently revealed to have intervened to have any mention of the country removed from a UN report on the effect of climate change on world heritage sites. It is the only continent to be omitted. Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, described the reef as “still the world’s Great Barrier Reef” after watching an Attenborough documentary despite Attenborough stating that “the Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger”. Ellen DeGeneres, who voices Dory, has campaigned to spread awareness yet is met by constant criticism and dismissal. Of course, the reef’s status as a popular tourist destination will no doubt decline were the reports to become widespread, sparking a decline in the lucrative tourism sector in Queensland. Plans to construct mining infrastructure near key sites of the reef, as well as land reclamation will further negatively impact tourism in the area.dory 3

When visitors go to the reef, they are unlikely to see the worst of its fate. Popular destinations are notably unaffected as they are near the southern reaches of the reef where water temperature is lower. The sheer scale of the reef provides a false sense of security, of normal decline when just slightly north catastrophe is taking place. The UN paper Australia withdrew from states that a 2 degree rise in temperature would result in the death of 95% of reefs. Current policies in place do not even commit to meeting a limit of a 2 degree rise, and are themselves predicted to fail to meet their own targets. The sheer distance between many of us and the reef, the sheer distant future of the consequences of global warming have rendered us numb to its threats. From fossil fuels to dirty industry, our refusal to consider long-term outlooks may just subject the reef to destruction.

To give the reef a fighting chance would be to recognise the reality of climate change. Thankfully, the Australian government pledged $1 billion to support the heritage site. However, that is also nowhere near enough. To recognise the reality of climate change is not just about combating its effects but about addressing its root cause. Current environmental policies set by Australia are simply insufficient. Ironically, many other states, including the Nordic states, Canada and New Zealand, which lack large reef systems have pledged not only to establish marine conservation funds but also have effective plans to combat climate change. The reality is that we all know how to fight climate change, but spending a little bit of spare change every once in a while simply won’t cut it. And of course, climate change denial is simply ludicrous in light of the damning scientific evidence throughout the years. Climate change threatens to destroy everything we hold dear, everything we rely on to survive, yet surprisingly, it is considered to be of least importance. We can realistically expect the effects of climate change to disrupt our everyday lives within our lifetimes. No longer is temporal distance an excuse for inaction, if it ever was one. It is likely already too late to prevent climate change, the best we could do is to minimise its effects on global ecosystems and on us. Climate change is scary, disturbing, and most importantly, real. Ignoring or dismissing it would be to surrender our fate to our own ignorance and greed.

Written By: Justin Chen. 

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