Fighting for the World's Largest Living Organism

Updated: Apr 10

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living structure.

The Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia

Credit: @workfortravel

The Great Barrier Reef covers approximately 348,000km2: an area larger than the UK, Switzerland and Netherlands combined.

This precious ecosystem could become a distant memory. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), during 2016-17 alone, back-to-back mass bleaching "wiped out half of the shallow corals on the Great Barrier Reef". The WWF also state that just over the last two decades, 91% of corals were found to have been bleached at least once. This is a shattering realisation.

The Reef is comprised of 980 individual islands, 3000 seperate reefs, 300 coral cays, and 150 inshore mangrove islands. It is home to 10% of the world's fish species, over 600 types of coral, 215 species of birds, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 14 species of sea snakes, 6/7 of the world's species of marine turtles and 25% of all known marine species.

A major factor in the severe degradation of half the reef is the event of coral bleaching.

Keeping the coral alive are algae that "live within the coral in a mutually beneficial relationship". So coral bleaching, as explained by the WWF, is the event in which coral becomes stressed and "expels the algae". The threats stressing the coral include, rising water temperatures (due to climate change), polluted oceans, pest outbreaks (i.e. Crown of Thorns Starfish), ocean acidification, fishing and coastal development .

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority have explicitly stated that "climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef." The effects of greenhouse gas emissions are degrading this priceless ecosystem, and it must come to an end.

The effects of the death of this ecosystem will not be limited to the reef itself.

The Reef has value beyond it's own ecosystem, what the reef experiences has implications locally and nationally. It is of incredible significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners. It provides 69,000 jobs, it's total economic asset value sits at approximately $56 billion and it contributes approximately $6.4 billion to Australia's economy.

Australian Earth Laws Alliance, interview with Gudju Gudju about the Great Barrier Reef

Fortunately, there is hope; there are several organisations battling for the survival of this wondrous reef, these include:

  1. "Fight for our Reef"; a partnership between WWF and The Australian Marine Conservation Society, which has "helped to secure a ban on capital dredge spoil dumping in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area... [They] have also stopped three mega coal port expansions." To support Fight for our Reef visit ;

  2. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Currently undergoing more than 60 Reef-saving projects, including; coral IVF, Reef forecasting, saving endangered turtles (the world's largest green turtle nesting area), and more. To support the Great Barrier Reef Foundation visit ;

  3. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) also have many initiatives in place, combating the deterioration of the Reef. These include;

- "Eye on the Reef" ; "a monitoring program that enables anyone who visits the Reef to contribute to its long-term protection"

- Field management

- Policy and planning strategic roadmap

- Crown-of-thorns starfish control

- Reef 2050 monitoring

To support the GBRMPA visit ;

Further organisations:

- Reef Restoration Foundation ;

- Great Barrier Reef Legacy ;

We cannot let the Great Barrier Reef disappear.

It is integral to the lives of many, and to the ecosystem itself that we observe our own environmental impact; many hands make light work. The more we contribute to climate change and remain inactive in working against it, the worse this problem becomes. The GBRMPA provide examples of actions we can take individually, such as turning of the lights when you leave a room, refusing single use plastic, limiting the use of your car, and supporting renewable energy. In addition to this, we can back organisations already fighting for the Reef, by donating, signing petitions, writing to the government, and volunteering. Such organisations, as well a link to take action can be found above.

For further ways to get involved in social justice action, visit

Further information & references:,want%20to%20see%20it%20protected,full%20recovery%20can%20take%20decades

In the spirit of reconciliation I, and on behalf of Respond Australia, acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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