The Effects of Pollution on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, in the seas off the coast of Queensland, Australia, boasts the largest coral reef system in the world. This massive reef, visible from space encompasses over 100,000 square miles of the Coral Sea hosting an impressive group of 900 islands and almost 3000 individual reefs. This World Heritage site is home to billions of organisms, supports diverse amounts of life living and feeding off the incredible coral structure, and is now deemed as one of the amazing Seven Wonders of the World.

Harmful pollutions, including many man-induced factors are working against the delicate balance of nature and are contributing factors in the threat to this sanctuary. In an effort to preserve the reef this second largest marine protected area in the world, second only to the Hawaiian Islands National Monument, is now a world protected site, with limited use by man and is guarded from overfishing and an over run of tourism. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority work to limit the impact on this delicate and rare ecosystem ensuring that the park is protected in a sustainable manner. The Authority oversees zoning protection, management of the reef, issues permits for use, and educates in its efforts to conserve this world treasure.

Pollution can and does have a devastating effect on life on the reef, as does the billion-dollar a year fishing industry and the four billion-dollar a year from tourism both polluting the area with damaging chemicals such as phosphates and nitrates, both negative by-products of the shipping world. Pollution brings poor water quality, which in turn affects the light and oxygen having a great impact on not only the algae but all organisms within the reef. Not just on the water but also upstream, issues include farming along the rivers and farm-runoff flow downstream bringing fertilizers and chemicals which work their way into the sea and to the reef’s food chain and often endangering many vulnerable and endangered species and support a harmful-algae growth.

Commercial overfishing is devastating on the food chain as key members within the delicate food chain on the reef are depleted, but also dolphins and turtles are trapped in the nets unwanted and perish. The pollution from the boats is also affecting water quality along with tourism boats and cruise ships all polluting the area.

Climate change is also playing a role in the depletion at the reef with rising ocean temperatures gravely affecting the ecosystem. The ocean’s acidity levels have altered due to the global problem of increasing CO2 emissions, decreasing pH levels reducing the calcification of the corals. The sea grass beds are also being depleted in the pollution of the oceans and with them the water quality is declining and the reef life is suffering. When sea life preferring colder temperatures move to alternate water ways the food chain break not only affects sea life but also seabirds that survive on the fish altering the numbers and affecting populations and the entire ecosystem balance within the reef. The temperature change is also causing Coral Bleaching, This loss of colour is stress induced with the upset of balance within the Algae as the less colour, less dense coral provides less sustainable life to the ecosystem feeding off it.

The cycle of human exploitation and pollution of the world contributing to global warming, leading to stresses on the coral reefs and in severe cases coral death, is in turn upsetting the balance of the food chain from the sea up as the whole ecosystem suffers.