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Death on the Great Barrier Reef: how dead coral went from economic resource to conservation symbol

Rohan James Lloyd writes in The Conversation (19.10.16) about the recent incidence of bleached and perishing coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and how dead coral was once seen as something to be celebrated.

'A recently published obituary for the Great Barrier Reef has drawn ire from reef scientists. While obituaries, even satirical ones, are undoubtedly premature, they are part of a long and complicated history of death on the reef.

'The obituary comes after this year’s record bleaching event in the northern section of the reef, where more than 50% of coral has died on some reefs.

'Since settlement, dead reefs along the Great Barrier Reef have been celebrated as an economic resource, criticised as a scientific misnomer, and now seemingly embraced by conservationists as a shock tactic.

'… Today, claims of a dead reef are still criticised by scientists. In contrast, conservationists are more willing to embrace the notion both to draw attention to their cause and to shock the public into activism.

'The Great Barrier Reef’s future is clearly uncertain, but we can learn many things from its past. I wonder if conservationists should stay on the message established in 1967: that the Great Barrier Reef is very much alive. That in itself might be enough to shock folks into action.

'A living reef offers hope and opportunity for change. As tourist operators lamented earlier this year, dead reefs could deter visitors who have no interest in visiting a coral graveyard. It is unlikely that concerned citizens would organise to save a dead Great Barrier Reef.'

 

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