Is The Great Barrier Reef Really Dead?

The reef is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Kyle Taylor/Flickr CC BY 2.0

It’s been a bit of a tumultuous year for the Great Barrier Reef, to say the least. As if the increase of industrial activity along the coastline it tracks wasn’t bad enough, this year has seen the largest coral bleaching event ever recorded as the sea surface temperatures continue to rise and the oceans continue to acidify.

Despite these very real and serious existential threats, worryingly little is being said or done by those who have the power to protect it.

RIP Great Barrier Reef

In response to this, environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen has written an article as if the rainbow palette of corals and shimmering, dancing life it so vitally supports, is no more.

“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness,” wrote Jacobsen. “It was 25 million years old.”

The poignant piece, penned as an obituary for the world’s largest living structure, details its life and history, and how we humans sat and watched as it sunk beneath the waves for one last time.     

“For most of its life, the reef was the world’s largest living structure, and the only one visible from space,” Jacobsen continued. “It was 1,400 miles long, with 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. In total area, it was larger than the United Kingdom, and it contained more biodiversity than all of Europe combined.”

While the reef may not be dead yet, the consistent hammering it has received, and is continuing to receive, certainly makes it seem like one of the world’s most beautiful ecosystems is not long for this world.

If this all sounds a little dramatic and a smidgen over the top, well, there’s bad news for you. The threats faced by the reef are all too real, and all too immediate. The point is, marine biologists have been warning us for years what will happen as the planet continues to warm and nothing is done about it.

They have been tracking the decline and bleaching of reefs around the globe, and telling the world that it will eventually hit the Great Barrier Reef. But their forewarnings have too often been met with indifference, until it is seemingly too late.

The Great Barrier Reef is the only living structure visible from space. Jacques Descloitres/MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA/GSFC

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