The coral of the Great Barrier Reef is dying with scientists warning that the reef could be dead in a few decades. Basically the coral is suffering from bleaching which eventually leads to an ecosystem collapse if the coral is not given a chance to recover.
Large scale coral bleaching is a new phenomenon with serious events only taking place in the past 30-40 years. When the first truly big event happened in 1998, around 50% of reefs were affected. This year, however, is set to blow 1998 out of the water.
For the Great Barrier Reef the prognosis looks grim. So far over 90% of the reef has been affected by bleaching. Scientists expect coral mortality to be over 50% overall and over 90% in some areas of the reef. The worst part of all of this is that widespread coral bleaching has only occurred with the rise of global warming.
Bleaching occurs when coral is under extreme stress from increases in the ocean temperature and its acidity. Algae which live within and nourish the coral leave and the coral turns white, is weakened, unable to combat diseases and will eventually be overtaken by seaweed and die.
Global warming is connected to ocean acidification, as carbon dioxide becomes a weak acid when dissolved in ocean water. The more acidic water means that corals cannot absorb the normal levels of calcium carbonate needed to grow their skeletons.
While all this is happening the government is supporting plans to build the biggest coal mine in the southern hemisphere, with an extended port just off the Great Barrier Reef.
Both the Liberal Party and the Queensland Labor Party are spruiking the Carmichael Coal Mine as a boon for jobs. They are also claiming it will be a boost to the state’s economy.
The idiocy of both major parties in supporting this project is obvious. Tourism in Queensland through the Great Barrier Reef brings in $6 billion a year and supports 70,000 jobs. In contrast the new coal mine will employ only 5,000 and give the state economy a boost of $4.1 billion.
The problem is that it is going to be impossible to both run the mine and have the Great Barrier Reef survive. Global warming is killing the reef, and the Carmichael mine will operate for 90 years and flood the world with more fossil fuels. With reefs around the world facing extinction within decades this is unacceptable.
The major parties will be sacrificing tens of thousands of tourism jobs on the reef for this mine. Not only does this show short sightedness on their behalf, but it points out the massive influence that mining and the fossil fuel industry have over Australian politics.
Regardless of how much money can be made off the reef, or how many jobs it provides in contrast to the coal industry, the reef must be saved.
Coral reefs all over the world are vitally important to the environment as a whole, supporting an estimated 25% of all marine life. Coral reefs provide food for one billion people in Asia alone by hosting this marine life. If temperatures keep rising and coral around the world dies, this biodiversity will be destroyed.
The problem is that halting global warming is hampered by the capitalist system. The profit-driven nature of system means that short term profits outstrip the needs of people and the planet. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef vs the fossil fuel industry this is painstakingly obvious.
The situation however could be very different. Coral can be surprisingly resilient, it can sustain periods of stress and bleaching and still recover. This all depends however, on whether or not the temperature drops back down to a level that coral life can sustain itself on.
Already this episode of bleaching has left 35% of coral in the Great Barrier Reef either dead or dying. If we want to see this situation change, we have a very limited time in which to make it happen. We need a massive shift away from fossil fuels. That can only be done if we change the foundations of the economic system.
We need to shift away from the rule of short term profit and towards sustainably planned democratic socialism. This is the best possible chance we have of saving the reef and the planet as we know it.
By Corey Snoek