The Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

January 14, 2018

1,800 miles of 2,900 individual reefs, 1,500 species of fish, 6 species of endangered turtles, and 30 species of marine mammals make up the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest coral reefs and often included as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  These deep blue abysses speckled with bright turquoise patches, and flourishing islands with pristine white beaches are visited by over two million tourists each year. and provide jobs to 67,000 people.  Unfortunately, recent studies demonstrate that t 90% of the Great Barrier Reef suffers from coral bleaching, and the imminent death of this great natural wonder will have global impacts.

Many visitors might view extensive reefs of pure white coral to be a sign of a beautiful, pure ocean environment, but scientists know that the bleaching of coral in the Great Barrier Reef is an image of the reef’s destruction caused by a new toxic environment caused by the rising temperature of the world’s oceans. Coral bleaching results when increasing water temperature stress corals and cause them to expel their microalgae. The millions of microalgae living in a symbiotic relationship within each piece of coral utilize photosynthesis to produce food for the coral. Warmer water temperatures inhibit the microalgae’s ability to photosynthesize. Corals sense that the microalgae are not working properly and trigger a stress reaction that expels the malfunctioning microalgae.  When the corals expel their microalgae, they are unable to produce food and begin to starve and bleach. White corals are actually the skeleton or bare tissue of the coral showing because it has lost all of its microalgae. After bleaching occurs, the corals quickly begin to decompose, leaving only bare rocks and decaying organic matter where there once was a thriving ecosystem.  Visitors to this bleached coral are in fact viewing the ghostly skeletons of dying corals.

                Coral bleaching is caused by climate change, and, as the ocean temperature rises, more and more coral bleaches.  Scientists anticipate that soon, the ocean temperature will be too high for corals to live, the Great Barrier Reef will die entirely and be replaced with bleached, decaying skeletons.  To fight this grim future, scientists all over the world are working to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef.  For example, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science are breeding corals that can withstand the warming water temperatures. They plan to replant these corals in the Great Barrier Reef so that they can reproduce to create a reef that is impervious to climate change. Unfortunately, these research projects suffer from insufficient funding, and, like many other environmental restoration projects, the research projects to save the Great Barrier Reef are very expensive.  Currently, these projects are mainly funded by private philanthropists because world governments fail to divert the necessary money into environmental projects.  Last July, President Trump said that “the U.S. will stop future Green Climate Fund spending” (Henry, Devin. “United States Going It Alone on Climate Change: What It Means”).  President Trump has also refused to sign a declaration on climate change that aimed to prevent global warming. “Already, wealthy countries were delivering far less than what was needed for poorer countries to deal with climate change. With Trump, the sum total will be even less,” said Karen Orenstein, the deputy director of the Economic Policy program at Friends of the Earth (Henry, Devin. “United States Going It Alone on Climate Change: What It Means”).  World leaders and governments have failed to recognize climate change and take responsibility the gravity of its effects, and, one of the many results of that ignorance is the imminent death of the Great Barrier Reef.  Climate change is happening, and the bleaching of corals all around the world is highly visible evidence of its effects. The Great Barrier Reef bleaching and its death will result in the death of hundreds of species, the loss of thousands of jobs, and the loss of one of our greatest natural wonders.  Scientific research may save the Great Barrier Reef and prevent reefs all over the world from suffering the same fate, but the world’s leaders must first openly recognize the problems of climate change and rising ocean temperatures and then divert the necessary funds promote the research that will save the Great Barrier Reef.

A graph of the rising ocean temperature from 1900-2015 from “Chasing Coral.” Netflix Official Site, 14 July 2017,

Images of the Great Barrier Reef taken 6 moths apart from “Chasing Coral.” Netflix Official Site, 14 July 2017,