Photo credit: CSIRO
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse and important ecosystems on the planet, and yet it is being suffocated by chemical and sediment run-off from the terrestrial environment. This isn’t normal. This isn’t natural. It’s because of us. Humans. How can we be doing this when we are so dependent on it? And why isn’t more being done to help?
The reef provides 64 000 jobs and $6.4 billion directly to the Australian economy every year. But even more than this, the reef is critical in carbon sequestration and the health of the planet. It is nicknamed ‘the rainforest of the ocean’ for a reason and this is because it provides us with the oxygen we all breathe day in day out.
The Great Barrier Reef is a farmer – it provides millions of people with fresh food every day, and to many, this is their main source of protein. The Reef is a chemist – it is full of bioprospecting properties, many yet to be discovered, but is the source to some of our leading anti-cancer drugs. The Reef is an artist – it is one of the most beautiful and unique structures on the planet and attracts over 2 million tourists every year. This is the foundation of the tourism industry in Queensland, which produces billions of dollars for the economy. And it doesn’t stop there. The Great Barrier Reef is also a guard. It protects Queensland’s precious coastlines from extreme storms and flooding. This is especially important in a time of increasing threats from climate change and the severe consequence of rising sea levels.
We respect our human farmers, chemists, artists, and guards. So why don’t we respect our Reef when it is doing all these things and more?
Alongside all the horrors of climate change and the severe impacts this is causing on the Reef, industries are causing another problem: water pollution. Sediment, nutrients and pesticides due to industrial, agricultural and urban development run-off flows from the terrestrial environment into nearby rivers, out to the ocean and onto the Reef. The consequences of this are disastrous; it leads to increased outbreaks of Crown-Of-Thorns starfish, responsible for 1/3rd coral cover loss, increased algal growth, smothered corals and reduced light. These all lead to reduced coral health and a severe decline in resilience to other threats such as climate change and ocean acidification.
Over the past two months, I have attended meetings with many expert individuals and organisations on this issue. I have learnt many things from these meetings but what has completely resonated with me is the fact that we know the issues, and we know the solutions. And although farmers are one of the key players in this catastrophe, they are also the ones with the highest ability to make a positive change. From speaking to a cane farmer in Marian, and an expert in sustainable agriculture, I have learnt that a large proportion of farmers are willing to make positive changes but just don’t have the resources or the means. So why aren’t we doing more to support them?
By simply increasing education for farmers (for example in the importance of soil health) and providing them with financial support, we could see some dramatic improvements to Reef water quality. We just need to urge the Governments help.