In an era of rapid environmental shifts, social changes and unprecedented economic development, a worldwide demand and need for relevant research against the effect of climate change on the environment has never been greater or more urgent.
Globally, more than 300 million people depend on the ecosystem services that coral reef provide, for their livelihoods and food security.
Listed as one of the seven natural wonders, The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has been registered on the World Heritage List in 1981 (UNESCO Convention), indicating its importance to the world.
Coral reefs are rapidly degrading due to multiple pressures of the climate change.
Since the 1980s, rising sea surface temperature owing to global warming have triggered unprecedented mass bleaching of corals. Bleached corals suffer psychological damages, and prolonged bleaching often leads to high levels of coral mortality. In 2020 the GBR has experienced its most widespread bleaching event on record, with the south of the reef bleaching extensively for the first time.
This marks the third massive bleaching event on the reef in just the last five years.
The cumulative, combined footprints of the recent major bleaching events now covers almost the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
In order to fight the effects of climate change on the GBR, different marine authorities are conducting researches and experiments with the aim of finding a solution for the protection and safeguard of the world’s reefs.
One of the most trusted scientific advisers in Australia is the AIMS (Australian Institute of Marine Science), which has spent more than 40 years creating unparalleled knowledge of tropical marine environments.
Its strong point is the National Sea Simulator, a huge laboratory where scientists can develop their more deep researches about the reef. Opened in August 2013, the Sea Simulator facilities enable researchers to emulate future marine conditions such as elevated temperatures and increased acidity of the water.
During the last years, AIMS with the joined work of James Cook University and the ARC (Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) is developing a significant project about assisted evolution, creating hybrid corals more resilient to bleaching events.
The scientists are studying a heat-resistant strain that could withstand the rising ocean temperatures, aiming to create a “Super-Coral” which will be transplanted along the Great Barrier Reef. This breakthrough research hopes for counteract some of the effects of coral bleaching, which are ravaging large parts of the reef.
For the Australian Government the reasons for saving the GBR are multiple.
It supports 64 000 jobs (mostly related with tourism) and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy.
Seen the importance of the GBR for the Australian tourism economy, even tour operators are conducting experiments on the reef for its restoration from the bleaching events.
For example, Quicksilver Group, a tour operator offering snorkeling and diving tourist packages in the reefs outward Port Douglas, decided to undertake an experiment never seen before due to the loss of corals in the high visual area of their pontoon, where tourists begin their immersion in the Agincourt Ribbon Reef.
This ground-breaking project involves the installation of mesh structures underwater to grow corals connected to power source. They have placed three steel mesh panels of 1.5×3 meters over an area of coral rubble in order to initially stabilize it, allowing the small “recruit colonies” to begin their growth process.
The mesh is then attached to a power source and will receive a constant low volt of electricity.
The very low voltage rates are enough to stimulate growth on the metal frames by allowing the assisted corals to deposit calcium carbonate at the rate of up to three to five times grater than normal.
Not all these interventions taken by the global and local authorities might be enough in order to secure a future for coral reefs. The risk of extinction on the reefs in the world is more than ever real and this requires urgent and rapid actions to reduce carbon emissions.
To steer coral reefs through the next century, we will need to be aware of their importance and most of all responsible of our actions as human being part of this wonderful planet called Earth.