How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around

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How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around – The headlines of The Great Big Complicated Story of the Great Barrier Reef portrayed the destination listed in Australia as dead or dying. But that’s an oversimplification of a complex story — and tourism’s most dire threat may be the one you least expect.

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, so long it could cover the entire west coast of the United States.

How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around

How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around

Page 53 of my 1992 dive log contains the details of my 26th dive. For the location I wrote: “study site, Davis Reef, GBR”. In the objective: “Acanthaster fert expt”.

Great Barrier Reef Survey

At the time, I was a 25-year-old graduate student in marine science at the University of Southern California. I had a place on a research cruise organized by the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences to the Great Barrier Reef near Townsville in the mid-latitudes. The aim of the project was to understand the population explosion of the starfish Acanaster planchi. These spiny echinoderms have the common name crown of thorns starfish, often abbreviated to COTS.

Since the 1960s, swarms of COTS have intermittently invaded the reef, eating coral with the voracity of agricultural locusts. They were – and still are – among the biggest threats to corals. Half of the reef bears the scars of a COTS outbreak.

Not in diving. 26, my job was to scan for bedbugs, pick them up with huge barbecue tongs to avoid getting stung, and bring them back to the research vessel for study. We induce spawning and collect the eggs in a giant modified syringe called the COTSucker. It turns out that only one woman produces 35 million eggs a year. This type of fertility is why population control has proven difficult.

My research target was the size of a dinner plate, rust colored or purple with 8 to 21 arms arranged around a central disk like sunflower petals. During the day, COTS hide in dark crevices. Looking into these shadows, I found skittish cardinal fish and spider-like feathered stars. Bright clouds of blue nestled in the arms of branching corals. The pastel lips of the giant clams kissed as I passed by.

Great Barrier Reef

Driving over the top of a minivan-sized cluster of coral, I wanted to look forward instead of down. I paused in the water, burning my fins, penguin style. I was face to face with a human-sized shark.

Our eyes met. My body shuddered involuntarily, a wave that started in my head and cascaded down to my feet. And the shark trembled, starting with the head and ending with the tail. As if reaching the same conclusion simultaneously, we turned in opposite directions and swam away from each other.

Despite having completed 14 dives during the week, encountering dozens of SHARKS, this moment is what stands out the most to me, of course because it was the only time I came face to face with a shark. But more than that, it taught me a fundamental truth about the Great Barrier Reef: when you look for one thing, chances are you’ll discover something even more powerful.

How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around

In recent years you may have seen them – headlines announcing that it’s your last chance to see the reef, that all that’s left is to write the reef’s obituary. These broad strokes are not just wrong, but an oversimplification of how vast and complicated the Great Barrier Reef really is.

Why Do We Need Coral Reefs?

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles across 14 degrees of latitude. You could cover the entire west coast of the United States in its length, and chunks would ooze over the edges into Canada and Mexico. About 13,000 years ago, the continental shelf’s 600 islands formed when sea levels rose, submerging a coastal ridge. Later, life added its own twist with 150 mangrove islands, 300 coral islands called cays, and 3,000 underwater reefs.

Diversity on the reef is abundant. The 600 species of hard and soft corals are the main part, but only the beginning. In addition to the blacktip shark, the reef is home to 132 species of sharks and 1,625 species of fish. Six of the world’s seven sea turtle species glide through its waters, and four of them lay their eggs on the islands’ sandy beaches. Dugong, relative of the bean; busy bottlenose dolphins; huge humpback whales; and pygmy minke whales are among the 30 species of marine mammals that chase their haunting calls across the waves.

All this, not including the thousands of species of urchins, sea cucumbers, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, sea spiders, mussels, scallops, sea anemones, sea feathers, jellyfish, sponges and worms. Not to mention the thousands of other marine phyla members so fantastic and unknown – like bryozoans, sea squirts and tunicates – that you might want to take the time to Google them.

Hardly a flower on earth can compete in brilliant hue with many of the anemones of the oceans, while the birds of the tropics are dulled in plumage alongside the exquisite fish found on these shores.

Record Warm Ocean Temperatures Killed Large Parts Of The Northern And Central Great Barrier Reef

For more than 50,000 years, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have made their homes along the Great Barrier Reef, traveling around its islands in canoes and fishing among its reefs. They are its traditional owners, whose history and spirituality are intertwined with a great knowledge of the marine world. Australians familiar with the reef refer to clumps of coral like the one I swam through when I encountered the shark as ‘bommies’. The word has its roots in the indigenous term “bombora”, which means big stone.

Despite its incredible biological wealth, tourists have been slow to discover the Great Barrier Reef. In 1893, that changed: after four years of research, British naturalist William Saville-Kent announced Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; Its products and capabilities, with color photographs and illustrations of underwater life.

The book was a success, receiving rave reviews in scientific journals such as Nature and glowing descriptions in journals such as the Cambridge Review, which wrote: “The pale flower of the earth may compete in brilliant hue with many of the anemones of the oceans, while the birds of the tropics are clouded in plumage by the exquisite fish found on these shores.’

How Long Has The Great Barrier Reef Been Around

Yet even as Saville-Kent proclaimed the reef’s natural beauty, he highlighted the extractive potential of lucrative pearl oyster deposits and fisheries. “Queensland’s latent resources – or in its limited sense, the barrier – wonderful fish fauna [sic]”, he wrote, “present almost limitless opportunities for profitable development”. This tension between human influence and protection defines the complicated relationship we humans have with the reef – a relationship that continues today.

The Great Barrier Reef: World’s Largest Reef System

Although I was grateful for a place on the Davies Reef research cruise in 1992, I didn’t actually come to Australia to study COTS. I came to see one of the greatest wonders of the world. In October and November, just after the full moon, the multitude of corals on the reef release their spawn in unison. Small, round, pink eggs rise like confetti caught in the realm of reverse gravity. It’s unwanted moments of wonder like those that made my visit so powerful.

Every year, 2.26 million visitors visit the Great Barrier Reef in search of that magic. Some come to dive and experience its natural wonders up close, others to glimpse its intricate beauty through glass bottom boats or through the windows of semi-submersibles or from above on scenic flights. Overall, Great Barrier Reef tourism supports 64,000 jobs – more than Qantas (Australia’s flag carrier) or Telstra (Australia’s largest mobile network), according to a 2017 economic report by Deloitte Access. The Great Barrier Reef contributes over $6.4 billion to the Australian economy annually and is valued at $56 billion through its economic, social and iconic impact.

Despite initial concerns from Australian residents that tourism was a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef, these fears are largely unfounded, thanks to a tightly controlled system of who visits the reef and when. However, there are many misconceptions.

Eric Fisher has spent over 15 years working in reef tourism, most recently developing the marine science and education program GBR Biology with adventure tourism company Experience Co. in Cairns. When I asked him about the adverse effects of travelers on the reef, I expected justified complaints about rubbish and rubbish, dropped anchors and hooked divers’ fins. But Fisher did the same thing the shark did years ago: he drew my attention to something that was right in front of me.

Visit The Great Barrier Reef: Everything You Need To Know

“Tourism does relatively little direct damage to the reef,” he says, noting that most operators permitted to do business on the reef insist on good etiquette and go beyond the rules. Instead, the scariest threat is a slightly larger image – appropriate for a place with such a large image.

Consider how far the Australian continent is from others, and Fisher’s warning is sobering: in 2018, Australia’s top international visitors by country were China (1.43 million), New Zealand (1.38 million), United States (789,000) and the United Kingdom (733,000). Couple that with the knowledge that a single, one-way ticket in economy class

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