Who has been to look at the Great Barrier Reef on Google Maps? I have! I’ve always loved extreme environments and find it interesting how so many animals can live in places which seem completely unlivable – on a trip to the Arctic a few years ago I marvelled at how the arctic hares can possibly survive, even in summer it’s so cold and there is so little food there.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef at 2600km long, and is just off the coast of Australia. It’s also stunningly beautiful, and is home to numerous species of fish and other aquatic animals so scientifically, as well as economically (a LOT of people go scuba diving there), it is very important. But sadly, in the news today we learn that the amount of coral has halved in the past 27 years.
So what’s the issue with coral? Well, it’s fascinating (well I think so anyway)! Firstly, despite how it looks coral is not a plant, it’s an animal. But it’s often not just one animal. It is often formed of many very small animals working together as a colony (there are an awful lot of types of coral, it would take forever to describe them all for you here but the coral reef alliance have a good factsheet if you’re interested). The hard corals you may have picked up on the beach are bits of limestone that are left behind by the animal when it dies. Strange to think of so many tiny animals (known as polyps) working together as one animal.
I’m sure that you can all guess that pollution of the sea and climate change are some of the main factors affecting the Great Barrier Reef (along with a coral eating starfish – strange but true). Corals are very fragile. Did you know that just touching a live coral may be enough to kill it? That’s why scuba divers are advised to keep a few metres away, so as not to kill the thing they’ve come to look at. They are also very sensitive to changes in light, temperature and pH (how much acid there is in the water), so any changes to the sea across the world are very likely to be bad news for the corals. What is even more worrying is that if you look at the fossil record you see that if most things in the sea die, so does everything else.
But, as ever here at the blog, it’s not all doom and gloom, as we’re believers of changing the planet in a way that makes everything better for everyone. The Great Barrier Reef may seem a long way away to us in the UK (and it is!) but anything that helps the sea will help the planet. Why not organise a litter pick at your nearest beach (with a grown up of course)? But the best news about Google’s ‘Reef View’ is that it makes everyone think about corals and if everyone is thinking about the sea then they are less likely to want to harm it, and more likely to do things like choose sustainable fish to eat. So go and have a look, learn about corals and see for yourselves why we want to save this wonderful ecosystem.
Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.