The Great Barrier Reef — a chain of 2,900 individual, underwater corals comprising the world’s biggest structure made by living organisms — is one of the most visible victims of climate change.

Bleached and still colorful coral sit side by side on the reef (Jenny Peters)

“Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater,” reported The New York Times. “

Damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef harms more than just the sea life that calls it home. It has had a very real economic impact on the people who rely on the structure for their livelihood.

“Based on the industries the reef both directly and indirectly supports, consultants at Deloitte have estimated its total value at $42.4 billion,” CNN reported. “ Unesco World Heritage-designated Great Barrier Reef Marine Park supports approximately 40,000 jobs in the region.
However, despite the reported damage, there are still questions as to just how desperate the reef’s situation really is.  Doug Baird, a marine biologist reminds us that “when talking about the Great Barrier Reef, you are talking about something bigger then the United Kingdom; stretching 1,430 miles, extending south from the northeast tip of Queensland down to just north of Bundaberg.  Its sheer vastness is one of the reasons Baird insists the reef is still hanging tough. Although it is fact that some areas are suffering, its vitality as a whole has not been affected.

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef

“We find there are quite large differences between individual reefs — even in different zones of the same reef,” Doug Baird, a marine biologist, told The Independent. “You can jump in in one place and see quite a lot of evidence of bleaching. Then you can swim 50 meters either way and get into a patch of reef where there’s really no evidence of bleaching at all. So the effects are really patchy on an individual basis.”

Jenny Cheetham, onboard marine biologist of The Reef Encounter cruise ship, agrees that the reef has not reached the point of no return. “The coral can recover and survive”, she says, “But I think there needs to be a global-scale cleanup. And it needs to come from a higher level, from the government.” Whether or not reports of its imminent doom are overblown, the Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly undergoing change caused by climate change.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland’s premier, states her government has allocated A$1.1 billion to help with the reefs repair.  Authorities hope to meet a 50% target by the year 2030, investing more than A$2 billion.

There is still hope for the Great Barrier Reef.  The existing problems affecting the reef can seem overwhelming, however educating people, providing facts, and reducing our carbon footprint, would make a tremendous positive difference for the Great Barrier Reef. Ben Hales, captain of the Reef Encounter cruise ship says it best, “There is still a lot of life out there!”