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The Great Barrier Reef is an Incredible Natural Phenomenon

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The Great Barrier Reef is a beautiful structure of living organisms; in fact, it is the largest one on earth and is home to a great percent of our marine life. Coral is made up of tiny mouth like polyps. Polyps take in calcium from the sea water and produce a hard limestone skeleton. Recently, scientists witness coral reef dying away at an alarming rate. Corals have a two-stage life cycle: the larva, and the polyp. Ocean currents carry the larva to a hard and clean surface where, if the conditions are suitable, the larva grows into a coral that forms polyps, where it will live for the rest of its life. 

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However, coral are fragile creatures and even the slightest change in their environment could be catastrophic. Coral reefs are one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet, mostly due to the unparalleled global warming and climate change; although, many other reasons exist for the devastating loss of coral, such as tourism and water pollution. Scientists all around the world have been working endlessly to try and find a way to bring the coral reefs back to its once prime state and hopefully prevent further damage, because otherwise the coral reefs will not survive the next century or less if no action is taken.

The main reason the coral is dying off is because of natural causes such as bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when the temperature of the water rises and affects the coral negatively. Coral needs clean and cool water to thrive; consequently, when the temperature rises, the algae on the coral dies off. The algae that inhabits the coral gives the coral color, meaning once it departs from the coral, the coral becomes white. Hence the name bleaching. Bleaching is a significant contributor to dying coral because once the algae dies off, a ripple-effect is caused; once the coral overheats and the algae is expelled, the fish that depend on the algae die as well. 

If this continues to happen a multitude of marine species could be at risk of endangerment or extinction. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is a scientist from the center of marine sciences at the University of Queensland. Hoegh-Guldberg wrote an article in which he explains in detail what coral bleaching is, why it occurs, and predicts the intensity and frequency of coral bleaching in the next 100 years. Things are only going to get worse and that the worst event on record for coral reefs will become a common everyday thing. While coral bleaching is the most disastrous issue coral is facing now, there are other problems such as having to deal with other potentially dangerous marine life.

Both coral reefs and other marine life are dependent on one another, therefore, when the coral dies off, we lose a crucial and substantial amount of fish and other marine life. Also, when a substantial amount of coral is lost genetic diversity of the ecosystem lessens and can be catastrophic. However, while some marine life can coexist peacefully with the coral and help each other, there are some marine animals that are contributing to the death of them. For instance, one of the most beautiful creatures that live in the coral reef, is one of the most prominent contributors to its death. The Crown of Thorns Starfish is the corals biggest predator, they literally “suck the life out” of the coral. Going into more detail, the Crown of Thorns Starfish feeds on the polyps of coral and while they do that, they release toxins that slowly kill the coral.

People who go to visit the coral reefs usually have the best intentions but unknowingly have a major contribution to the death of the precious corals. This is due to a variety of reasons including, littering, and runoff of sunscreens. Chemical runoff of sunscreen is a major contributor. There are certain chemicals in almost every sunscreen that are extremely harmful to the marine life. For example, the chemical Oxybenzone (AKA BP-3) is the most eminent chemical to cause death to coral. 

Oxybenzone causes the coral to encase itself in their skeleton, which after a period of time, leads to the death of the coral (Working). That is only one of the major effects of sunscreen. However, the biggest reason, between these two, for the death and decline in coral of the reefs around the world is, littering and the fact that plastic infests the ocean. The breakdown of hazardous materials and trash takes the lives of thousands of marine animals that are dependent on the coral. 

For instance, it sacrifices the lives of hundreds of sea turtles every year. The trash kills all these turtles because the turtle’s mistake plastic for jellyfish – their favorite snack – and once the turtles consume the plastic, it gets lodged in their throats and they are unable to breathe, which leads to their death. Tourism has already done immense amounts of damage by adding to the plastic pollution and it is only one of the three major reasons for the death of the coral.

With the help of society, scientists can have the opportunity to save the coral reefs, but it will take a tremendous amount of work and years to fix what is broken. A few preventatives that can be done to help, would be to breed more of the Crown of Thorns Starfish predators so they do not have the opportunity to kill off a big portion of the coral. While there is not very much that can be done to prevent the natural disasters that might occur, we can control other things. For instance, the number of tourists that are allowed should be limited, as well as their time in the water. Another option would be to educate the tourist on the effects that they can have on the reef. By taking action and following these guidelines, we could help the coral reef and give it time to regenerate. 

These guidelines do not seem like much but any small contribution to this cause will help save the beloved coral and ultimately the world, because if the ocean fails the rest of the world will not be far behind. Coral reefs provide the world with more than people realize, such as food, construction materials and medicines. Furthermore, reefs provide protection and draw tourists that bring in irreplaceable income to some countries. Therefore, the loss of coral reefs could mean the social, environmental and economic downfall of the world.

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