Environmental Threat to the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists are constantly discussing how climate change is affecting the Great Barrier Reef. Often in complicated terms that can be difficult to understand. These scientific theories can leave a lot of people wondering ‘What is actually happening to the Great Barrier Reef’, and ‘How can it be stopped?’.


In short, global warming is having a negative impact on the Great Barrier Reef. The warmer temperatures brought on by global warming are causing coral bleaching, which can strongly affect the health of the reef. Coral relies on certain types of algae to provide it with food and energy. This gives the coral its colour and keeps it healthy. Coral bleaching occurs when this algae breaks down as a result of the stress caused by rising sea temperatures. Once the breakdown of the algae starts, the coral begins to starve and lose its colour. If temperatures do not return to normal, the breakdown of algae could continue until the affected coral dies completely. Hot weather periods can cause mass bleaching and lead to permanent damage of the reef. Reefs often take decades to recover once coral bleaching and coral death occurs.

Climate change has now been declared as the greatest long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It not only causes coral bleaching, but threatens every part of the eco-system, as many organisms rely on the coral for both food and habitat. In 1998, the worst coral bleaching event in 700 years struck the Great Barrier Reef. Then, only four years later in 2002, even worse bleaching occurred which affected nearly 60% of the reef. According to NASA, as greenhouse gases continue to be released, sea temperatures are expected to rise, causing further damage. However, scientists and climate change sceptics continue to clash with their views.


The predominant view is that increasing greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming. Primarily, greenhouse gas emissions derive from the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy for things like transport and electricity. Due to the fact that Australia relies heavily on coal to generate electricity, we are producing a large amount of carbon emissions, as coal is the most ‘greenhouse-intensive fuel’ (WWF, 2016). These carbon emissions are having a negative impact on the Great Barrier Reef due to the effects of the rising sea temperatures that are caused by global warming.

Climate change sceptics continue to deny these ideas, claiming there is no evidence to suggest human activity is to blame for global warming. Scientist and climate change sceptic Terry J Lovell has even gone as far as to claim that human caused global warming is a scam. He states that there is no evidence to prove that co2 causes the global mean temperature to rise and fall. However, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are due to human activity that produces carbon emissions. NASA states that by comparing atmospheric samples contained in ice cores, to more recent direct measurements, evidence has been found to show that CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution (NASA, 2016).


Recently, myths have circulated claiming the reef is already 95% damaged by global warming. However, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have established that approximately three quarters of coral on the Reef has survived (2016). Currently, the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef which goes from Port Douglas to Cape York is the most damaged, and it is expected that many corals in this part of the reef will die (GBRMPA, 2016). If carbon emission levels continue to rise, Author and Former Chief Scientist of AIMS Charlie Veron expects that coral bleaching will continue to wipe out parts of the reef (Moore, 2016).
“Today’s children are almost certain to see the Great Barrier Reef trashed within their lifetime,” Veron states.
Whilst the future of the reef is uncertain, there are steps we can take to help protect it against the effects of climate change.


We can help by reducing our personal emissions. This can be done simply by recycling more, driving less, or using clean fuel. Of course, using less electricity and utilising solar power can also help (NRDC, 2016). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that by limiting our personal emissions, we can help reduce the effects of climate change. And consequently, aim to reduce the rate of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. A little can go a long way, and even the smallest of changes can help our environment.

23 years old and based in Brisbane! My love for writing led me to study Journalism at Griffith University. I'm passionate about animal rights and the environment.

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