We're in a coal fired climate crisis, and it's threatening our reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage treasure, home to unique coral and marine species. But right now it’s facing an enormous threat.
Climate change is driving reef bleaching and threatening the livelihood of the communities and tourism workers who depend on a healthy reef. This year the reef experienced its third mass bleaching event in just five years. It was the most widespread yet, but due to COVID-19, this devastating event went largely unnoticed.
The coal industry is the biggest driver of climate change in Australia. Scientists tell us we can have either coral or coal, but not both. Yet, the Australian government has repeatedly refused to act on climate change and instead promotes the expansion of the coal industry.
To protect the Great Barrier Reef, we need real solutions to address the climate crisis which is being driven by the burning of coal and other fossil fuels like gas and oil.
Will you add your name to our fight for the reef?
Tell the Australian Government to choose coral over coal
You can also increase your impact by making a donation to our Great Barrier Reef campaign
The reef generates over $6 billion for the Australian economy and supports 64,000 jobs, mainly through tourism. It is culturally and spiritually important to Indigenous communities and all Australians. But the reef may disappear in just 40 years due to destructive human activities like burning coal which is warming our oceans and disrupting the marine life and sea ecosystems, destroying jobs and communities with it.
Crucial to Australia’s economy and culture
A natural biological bank over 20 million years old
The Great Barrier Reef is home to a spectacular array of nearly 9,000 marine species including dugongs, dolphins, whales, jellyfish and coral. More than 1500 different species of fish live in the Great Barrier Reef, which represents 10% of the world’s fish species. At over 20 million years old, the Great Barrier Reef has survived the last glacial periods.
The World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living structure and is the only living thing visible from space. Composed of 2900 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is as large as the land mass of Tasmania and Victoria combined (or United Kingdom, Holland, and Switzerland combined for our global readers).
The largest coral reef system in the world
Tiny algae called zooxanthellae live in the tissue of coral providing it with food and also giving coral its colour. As the ocean absorbs more and more CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, ocean temperatures and acidity levels in the water rise. The algae become stressed and leave the coral - taking with it the coral’s food source and colour. The coral turns white and ‘bleaches’.
The burning of coal, gas and oil is the largest source of CO2 emissions in our atmosphere. Like our trees, our oceans are the lungs of our earth and absorb this excess CO2, raising the temperature of our oceans and disrupting the natural ecosystem.
While it is possible for coral to recover from a bleaching event, the severity and length of the bleaching determines whether the coral will recover or die. As the globe continues to warm and ocean temperatures increase, bleaching events like this will become more frequent and could occur annually as soon as 2030.
We must reduce the severity of further bleaching by moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of energy that operate with almost no CO2 emissions.
Why is the coral bleaching?
The greenhouse gases generated by burning coal warm the ocean and increase the likelihood of coral bleaching. There have been five mass coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef since 1998. Coal-driven carbon dioxide in the air is also absorbed by the ocean, making the water more acidic and harming sea life
The dredging of the reef floor to create routes for coal ships in this area would destroy part of the reef bed. It can cause sediments to linger for kilometres, smothering the reef. More ships mean a greater chance of their hitting the Reef and spilling oil, like crash of the MV Shen Neng off Rockhampton in 2010. As many marine species rely on the Great Barrier Reef as a breeding ground, the delicate balance of the reef ecosystem will be under threat.
The water used in coal mining and transport could become contaminated, thick and cloudy, and potentially end up in the reef.
Coal toxins harm marine life and cloudy water blocks sunlight, preventing algae from making food through photosynthesis.
The coal industry's three big threats that could devastate The Great Barrier Reef:
How the coal industry impacts the reef
Increase your impact by making a donation to our Great Barrier Reef campaign
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