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The Reef Might Be Silent But The Message Is Loud And Clear

28/04/2016 6:37 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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We use a lot of flowery words to describe the Great Barrier Reef -- beautiful, ancient, a jewel, incredible, unique -- and Sir David Attenborough's three-part documentary series 'Great Barrier Reef', which concluded on Sunday, has reminded us why they're all true. He invites us to marvel in this underwater world, from the beautiful to the outright bizarre.

But in true Sir David style, he also gives us some ground truths, and this one jumped out at me: "Coral reefs are surprisingly noisy places, the healthier the reef, the louder this chorus is." A silent reef is something I hoped to never hear again.

My family took an ill-timed trip to Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, just after the first global coral-bleaching event. A week camping by the beach and snorkelling off the shore was highly anticipated, but when we plunged into the water we were met with stark white corals and an eerie silence. The usual sounds of fish eating were gone, along with the colours and vibrancy of the coral. Summer's hot waters hadn't just damaged the fringing reefs right off the shore but devastated them.

coral bleaching great barrier reef

A similar story is playing out across the northern and central Great Barrier Reef right now. An underwater heatwave has spread across the Pacific and bleached the colour and life out of corals; the warm waters from el Niño have combined with climate change to wreck havoc on Reefs around the world and now, for the third time ever, on our very own Great Barrier Reef.

The bleaching happening right now is the worst our Reef has ever had. The pictures are devastating and listening to scientists describe what's happening is heart wrenching, but their message is loud and clear: this is climate change. And this is where we come in.

It is a symptom of the problem of climate change fuelled, in part, by coal mining. Abutting the Reef, Queensland's coast hosts coal ports and there are coal mines further inland. We cannot keep mining and exporting coal to be burnt and expect the neighbouring Reef to survive.

coral bleaching

Bleached coral at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Australia, as the world's largest coal exporter, will export a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in its coal this year, erasing the few benefits of meeting its weak Paris target and worsening its contribution to global climate change. Much of that coal travels through the Port of Newcastle and the three major ports on the shores of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government wants us to believe it is proactive about climate change, but in reality they're sending emissions overseas through coal exports. Australia's carbon dioxide​ exports through coal have increased by a massive 253 percent since ​1990.

The Government wants those coal exports to keep growing and growing despite the impacts of climate change devastating the reef right now. But their plans to open up the massive galilee coal basin have been a bridge too far and generated massive public opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people across Australia and the world have put the brakes on these destructive coal projects, projects that will heat up our oceans even more if they go ahead.

coral bleaching

A panoramic image of the coral bleaching at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef

People have stood up to a big, powerful industry and said they won't accept their harm to our Reef and our climate. Australians have stopped our Government and companies from dumping dredge spoil at sea, we've stopped new ports being built in pristine areas. We've taken the message from the streets to politicians' offices to boardrooms across the globe to the floor of the World Heritage Committee.

Every step of the way we've maintained that our Government's promises are falling short and their actions even shorter. Their failure to protect our Reef won't go unnoticed, especially in the lead up to an election.

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