The great problem of the Great Barrier Reef

What are the biggest problems that the Great Barrier Reef is threatened with? Are humans the biggest rivals in the game? What threats have risen? Why our actions are a little late? This article tries to address some questions that have risen in people in the past few days.

Photo by LI FEI on Unsplash

Dear readers,

Filled with life and biodiversity, the Great barrier reef is the world’s largest coral reef system with over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It is also undoubtedly one of the most beautiful marine life out there that is thriving and it is also home to many marine creatures. The Great barrier reef is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it is at the critical brink of being more of a great graveyard.

What is the problem? What is at stake?

The whole worlds thinkers and innovators have come to sense that we are not taking problems seriously, and we have started the work towards a better future to save our so loved great barrier reef so that in the future we can see creatures playing around in their coral ecosystem.

It is not for the first time that we are being faced with the challenges of the great barrier reef. In 2018, we came to know about coral bleaching, but we did do nothing commendable to stop it or maybe prevent further damage. We have ignored our duties towards our ecosystem and environment and now we are faced with so many challenges from different directions, right from 1990, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2013, 2018 and 2020. We knew problems but did not pay heed to solutions. Previously we only had problems with funding, donations and giving money, but now we can invest our time and skills to fight multiple problems.

The great barrier reef is facing problems like:-

  • Coral bleaching — This happens due to climate change, it is mainly because of warm temperatures of the water in summer, ocean acidification, and much more. Here the corals lose nutrients and turn white.
  • Farm pollution — Farm pollution is one of the key drivers of the Reef’s decline. It smothers corals and seagrass beds and denies them sunlight, drives the crown of thorn starfish and makes coral more vulnerable to bleaching. Nitrogen run-off from farms can also lead to algal blooms, which starfish larvae feed on, promoting population explosions.
  • Global warming, marine pollution and overfishing.


Coral Reef Studies — The Conversation
Coral Reef Studies — The Conversation

What is at stake then?

  • Climate change and bleached coral will make coral-based tourism unappealing or non-existent, which will lead to job losses. Developing countries and small island countries like Tuvalu will be most affected by such drastic shifts.
  • The most surprising part is that this is not a hypothetical scenario or just a figment of our imagination. The threat is real. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a meagre 1.5°C rise in global temperature can lead to the extinction of 70–90% of coral reefs around the globe. This number could go as high as 99% of global temperature rises by 2°C.
  • Coral reefs reduce risks against flooding and the erosion of coastlines. With them gone, there will be rapid erosion of coastlines and many small island countries might even vanish from the world map. There may be many more serious repercussions that we are unable to perceive at this moment.
  • Australia’s stunningly beautiful Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef and home to 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of corals, 130 species of sharks, rays, and a massive variety of other sea life. Unfortunately, the reef is under threat, in part because of the overpopulation of one particular starfish — the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (or COTS for short). Scientists, tourism operators and reef managers established a large-scale intervention program to control COTS outbreaks to ecologically sustainable levels.

“Numbers don't lie, and the thing to take note is that they are pieces of reality.”

Is all this caused by humans? Are there other creatures at play?

Answer — Yes! Reckless human activities are one of the major reasons we are here. Our behaviour towards nature and all the exhaustion of resources has led us to this, but it is not only us, there is something else as well.

The crown of thorns starfish are vastly populated in the great barrier reef and are the main reason that bleaching corals are unable to recover, they keep thriving on the nutrients, cut off nitrogen and closing sunlight, eventually killing the coral.

Solution and hope

Even after 2 decades of ignorance, we are back here, to fight back, now we are powered with even powerful tools like statistics, and machine learning and even better surveying tools that override the previous surveying methods like manta towing to a machine learning platform that can count the number of starfishes, specifically crown of thrones starfish. CSRIO and Google are scaling to join this great capturing and save moving of the great barrier reef. Recently TensorFlow challenged developers from around the world to come to compete in this challenge using the Kaggle competitions. Furthermore, it has been decided that CSRIO will open source this for the scientific community worldwide to intervene and save their beloved Great Barrier Reef.

Scientific researches also found that out of all the coral species, some rare 2% of the population escaped coral bleaching, and researches and smart harvesting are being conducted with them.

Overall, we still have time to take action to save all that we feel dear. Let's take a step with CountUsIn and TEDCountdown, Tensorflow, and Kaggle. We can all now use and invest our time, passion, and skills to work to save what we regard as ours and care for the future.

Reference and further reading

  1. Great Barrier Reef’s future dealt blow as study finds only 2% escaped coral bleaching —
  2. ‘Confronting’: Great Barrier Reef faces frequent extreme coral bleaching at 2C heating, research finds —
  3. Great Barrier Reef bleaching stats are bad enough without media misreporting —
  4. What will happen if all coral reefs die? —
  5. Tensorflow — Help Protect the Great Barrier Reef —
  6. Help Protect the Great Barrier Reef with Machine Learning —

Thank you for reading this. Take care and stay safe. Share this resource or any other resources listed here in this article, to raise awareness. Hope you found this informative and useful.




Divyosmi Goswami: A digital nomad's journal wandering through the physical and cyber city discovering himself.

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Divyosmi Goswami

Divyosmi Goswami

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