Is the Great Barrier Reef Dying?

Great Barrier Reef dead
Australia is one of the world’s most revered yacht charter destinations. Known for its idyllic summer weather, and laid-back vibes, a charter in Australia offers the chance to relax, unwind and enjoy the sights Down Under.

Yet, if there’s one destination Australian yacht charters can’t miss, it’s the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the world’s seven natural wonders, the extensive network of corals and islands off the coast of Queensland offers yachters a chance to experience a one-of-a-kind snorkeling and diving experience. Not to mention, with a handful of sparsely populated islands and deserted beaches to check out, there’s plenty to explore.

One question, though, we’ve been hearing more and more from our charter guests is: Is the Great Barrier Reef dying? What’s the status of Australia’s favorite yacht charter destination?

The short answer: The Great Barrier Reef’s health status is up in the air. After several ocean heat-waves, Great Barrier corals are in decline. According to one recent study, scientists estimate that as much as one-third of the entire Reef has undergone bleaching, due to warming ocean waters. Yet, there is reason for hope.

How Big Is the Great Barrier Reef?

The sheer size of the Great Barrier Reef difficult to fathom. Called an underwater rainforest for its biodiversity, the GBR marine park measures nearly 1,800 miles in length from its southern reaches up to the north. And at some points, the reef is nearly 40 miles wide.

In fact, the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from space – the only living thing visible from space. It’s a challenge to imagine the sheer size of the entire Reef. But here are some astonishing facts that put its size into perspective:

  • The Reef includes more than 900 islands, including the Whitsunday Islands, Lizard Islands and the Great Palm Islands (favorite yacht charter destinations)
  • Nearly 3,000 individual reef structures make up the Great Barrier Reef
  • The Reef is about the same size as Italy and half the size of the entire state of Texas

In other words, on Great Barrier Reef yacht charters, there are plenty of hidden islands, untouched beaches and wide-open spaces to experience.

Great Barrier Reef: An Ecosystem Made for Snorkelers

This massive ecosystem also offers some the world’s most impressive biodiversity in the world.

It is, of course, the world’s largest coral gardens, home to more than 400 different species of coral and 1,500 species of tropical fish. Encounters with exotic wildlife are the norm in the Great Barrier reef, where large populations of mollusks, rays, sea turtles and dolphins also congregate and play.

The bright, colorful fish weave in and out of the coral structures, offering snorkelers the chance to be engulfed in schools of fish. There’s nothing else like it in the world.

And this biodiversity is exactly why the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most-revered snorkeling and scuba diving destinations (and also a prime reason so many choose to go on yacht charters here).

Yet, for all the smaller creatures, the reef is home to some the giants of the sea as well. The warm waters are grounds of humpback whales – with sightings common in early summer. The habitat is also home to large populations of Sea Cow and Giant Green Turtles – one of only a handful of habitats on Earth.

In short, on an Australian yacht charter, you’ll likely spend as much time in the warm waters, as you will on the boat.

Warming Oceans: A Threat to the Fragile GBR

Coral reefs are extremely fragile ecosystems. Minute changes in temperature, ocean acidification, and increases and extreme weather all pose threats to this natural wonder. How exactly do they harm the Great Barrier Reef?

  • Rising Sea Temperatures – The ocean, just like land, experiences heat waves, when water temperatures skyrocket. In 2016, the waters around the reef, for example, were warmer than average. Warmer waters can cause the temperatures of the reefs to rise dramatically – think of it like getting a very bad sunburn. “Coral bleaching” occurs as a result, and the corals turn white and begin to die.
  • Ocean Acidification – There is more carbon dioxide in the environment, which has significantly risen in the last century. The oceans absorb this CO2, and as a result the water’s pH levels decrease. Acidified water reduces coral’s ability to reproduce and grow new skeletons.
  • Severe Weather – Climate change has increased the risks for severe weather, including monsoons and cyclones. These weather events can directly impact coral structures. Cyclones weaken coral structures, while heavy rains push more sediment and dirt from land out onto the reefs.

All of these threats – and many more, including coastal development, polluted water runoff, and illegal fishing – have had a significant impact on the Barrier Reef. According to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the area has experienced a 50% reduction in coral coverage since 1982.

Is There Hope for the Great Barrier Reef?

The alarming 2016 mass coral bleaching – experienced in Australia and around the world – has increased worries among scientists that the world’s coral reefs may soon be extinct. In fact, one study said that world-wide, coral reefs could be extinct by 2050.

Yet, recent developments and research breakthroughs have provided room for cautious optimize. In 2017, researchers, for example, began experimenting with growing coral in tanks and planting in reefs affected by bleaching. A pilot project found that tank-grown coral survived and thrived once planted – providing scientists with an open for large scale coral restoration.

Another promising solution: Comprehensive management. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is expertly managed to limit the impacts of tourism on the reefs, and numerous nonprofits have stepped up to lead conservation and management efforts.

So, what does this mean for Australian yacht charters? Many of yacht charters stick to the central and southern areas of the reef, near Cairns, which haven’t been hit particularly hard. Yet, for such a massive ecosystem, guests will always have plenty to explore. Plus, tourism spending accounts for a large percentage of conservation efforts – you’ll be helping the conversation efforts by chartering there.

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