The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and the world’s largest single structure made from living organisms. The reef stretches over 2,300 km in length and is so large that it can be seen from outer space. In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef was named a natural World Heritage Area for its ‘outstanding universal value’ but now due to climate change it is under threat. In this episode we speak with Theresa Fyffe from The Great Barrier Reef Foundation about the health of our reef and what is being done to protect it.
The Great Barrier Reef was in the headlines recently due to UNESCO’s publication of a draft recommendation for the reef to be added to its endangered list. Theresa talks frankly about this new ruling and gives her insights into the factors that have led to this decision by UNESCO. She explains how our reef is under immense pressure from the effects of climate change which has led to the deteriorating health of the reef through events such as mass coral bleaching. She goes on to describe this new ruling as a call to action and a cry for help from the reef. Theresa hopes that this is a wakeup call for everyone and will galvanise people to take immediate action on climate change and mitigate its effect to ensure the future of the world’s largest coral reef is protected.
Coral reefs are on the frontline when it comes to climate change, but although the outlook for the reef is not great at the moment, the future doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Theresa speaks about a number reef regeneration projects now underway and how top scientists are hard at work urgently looking for ways to save our reef. The foundation is partnering with some of the world’s most incredible research organisations studying how to best protect what parts of the reef we have, restore what we have lost and where possible accelerate reef adaptation. Theresa emphasises the importance of coral adaptation in the restoration process. Currently scientists are working on growing coral that is resistant to marine heat waves and rising sea temperatures. However, growing this coral at scale is where things start to get difficult.
Currently, researchers are able to grow 1000’s of corals a year in a nursery environment but in order to have a chance of counteracting the effects of climate change they need to grow tens of millions of corals. However, Theresa has confidence in these programs and the progress they are making. Some of the brightest minds from around the world are working on these solutions to discover new ways to rapidly accelerate the growth thermally tolerant coral and on a mass scale.
Theresa remains optimistic about the future health of the reef. She believes it’s possible to turn the tide and put up a fight against climate change. However, these next few years are absolutely critical. She hopes that through working together with businesses, all levels government and individuals we can save our reef.