General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Great Barrier Reef


Recently, a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the Great Barrier Reef is in crisis and suffering grave impacts from climate change.

Great Barrier Reef

  • The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia.
  • It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. 
  • The entire ecosystem was inscribed as World Heritage in 1981, covering an area of 348,000 square kilometers, and is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. 
  • This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps.
    • They are made up of genetically identical organisms called polyps, which are tiny, soft-bodied organisms. At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, which forms the structure of coral reefs.
    • These polyps have microscopic algae called zooxanthellae living within their tissues. The corals and algae have a mutualistic (symbiotic) relationship.

What is the significance of Great Barrier Reef?

  • The diversity of species and habitats, and their interconnectivity, make the Great Barrier Reef one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth. 
  • There are over 1,500 species of fish, about 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusc, and some 240 species of birds, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, and other species. 
  • It also comprises endemic species and threatened species as listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • It is also one of the major tourist attractions in the country and contributes to the economic development of the country

What are the Findings of the Report?

  • Warming ocean temperature is causing frequent and severe coral bleaching.
    • The worst bleaching event, in 2016, affected over 90% of the reef, and a punishing succession of bleaching incidents has left the northern and middle portion of the reef system in a highly degraded state.
  • Even if the global community achieves its goal of limiting future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, that still wouldn’t be sufficient to prevent more frequent mass bleaching events, though it may reduce their occurrence.
  • The ocean warming and marine heatwaves will cause the loss and degradation of tropical shallow coral reefs, leading to “widespread destruction” of coral reef ecosystems.
  • If bleaching persists, the IPCC estimates 10,000 jobs and AUD1 billion in revenue would be lost every year from declines in tourism alone.
  • Around a billion people worldwide rely on coral reefs for their everyday living, which is why a failure to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions could have devastating effects for humanity.
  • Beyond the reef, climate change will lead to a surge in heat-related deaths in Australia, the extinction of certain animal species, and more wildfires.
    • Koalas are at risk of local extinctions due to increasing drought and rising temperatures.
    • And rising sea levels and storm surges led to the recent extinction of a rodent species called Bramble Cay melomys, which lived on a remote cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef.
    • Black Summer fires of late 2019 and early 2020 that killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.
    • Even Australia’s famed eucalyptus trees, which are naturally resilient to the country’s seasonal fires, may not be able to withstand the ferocity and frequency of the predicted blazes, which could lead to the decimation of forests.
  • The report also provides extensive lists of climate adaptation strategies, such as improving building standards so that homes stay cooler during potentially deadly heat waves.

Initiatives to Protect Corals

  • A number of global initiatives are being taken to address the issues, like:
    • International Coral Reef Initiative
    • Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN)
    • Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA)
    • The Global Coral Reef R&D Accelerator Platform
  • Similarly, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), India has included the studies on coral reefs under the Coastal Zone Studies (CZS).
    • In India, the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with help from Gujarat’s forest department, is attempting a process to restore coral reefs using “biorock” or mineral accretion technology.
    • National Coastal Mission Programme, to protect and sustain coral reefs in the country.

Source: Indian Express

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