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Cutting Down on CO2 Emissions will bring the Great Barrier Reef Back to Life

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The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef system containing over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 individual islands stretching an impressive 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers). The reef covers an approximate 133,000 square miles (344,400 square kilometers), and is so massive it can be seen from space. By comparison, the Apo Reef, located in the Philippines, only consists of 13 square miles (34 square kilometers).

The reef has been labeled as one of the seven best natural wonders of the world. According to the Australian government, the reef attracts roughly 2 million tourists each and every year, making it the largest contributor to the Australian economy generating over $4 billion annually.

Even though the reef is admired by millions of people each year, it’s not the marvel it once used to be. According to a 2012 study conducted by The Australian Institute of Marine Science, as of 2012 the Great Barrier Reef had lost more than half of its coral coverage since 1985. This loss is due to many contributing factors, such as hurricanes, an invasive coral eating starfish species, but most importantly by global warming.

Corals generally thrive in warmer waters, like those present off the coast of Queensland, however any increase in heat beyond those normal temperatures can be harmful to the coral. An increase of just two or three degrees Fahrenheit can kill coral completely. By conservative calculations, the average ocean temperature has raised 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.

This increase in temperature causes the coral to expel an algae living in their tissue, known as zooxanthellae, out into the water. This process counteractively strips the coral of its major food source, causing it to turn pale and in some extreme cases turn completely white. While in this “bleached” state coral is at its highest chance of death.

According to studies conducted by Terry P. Hughes, the director of The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia, only 9 percent of the reef has avoided becoming bleached since 1998. Recently the reef has gone through another mass bleaching.

In an article published in The Journal Nature, Hughes said, “We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years. In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs – literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.” Hughes also said regarding climate change, “Climate change is not a future threat on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s been happening for 18 years.”

Today, the Australian government and The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park actively protect 33 percent of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s possible for coral to bounce back and come back to life after the bleaching process. Once waters cool down, coral are able to re-acquire the algae they need to survive. In order for the water temperature to decrease or at least stop rising, C02 emissions need to be cut down significantly.

Making greener choices in our everyday lives can help.

This is one of the many reasons why I’m glad I work for an environmentally cautious company. Emerald Brand uses bagasse, a by-product of sugarcane, to manufacture environmentally safe disposable products. This material was previously burned or left to decompose, emitting pollution into the air like CO2 and methane, and thus contributing to the global warming problem. Tree-Free™ products also reduce deforestation. Since trees absorb CO2 to create oxygen, we need trees to reverse the effects of global warming.

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