As reflected through this year's NAIDOC theme “Heal Country,” now is the time to reflect and take action to protect our beautiful country. The incredible ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef is increasingly at risk. This beautiful reef is known as one of Australia’s environmental gems, being the worlds largest reef system spanning 2,300km. The key group that is fighting to save this renowned marine park is the Great Barrier Reef Legacy. They are a non-for-profit social enterprise that brings together the best scientific minds, talented educators and inspired multimedia specialists to create positive long lasting outcomes for the reef.
Aerial view of Heart Reef. Courtesy of Getty Images, 2017.
There are a number of factors that are contributing to the environmental degradation of the reef. The biggest is of course Climate Change. The additional carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere through human activities is causing an increase in ocean temperatures. The tropical sea surface temperatures have risen from 0.4°C to 0.5 °C in the last decade. Higher temperatures put the reef at greater risk of heat stress and mass coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when sea temperatures become too high or low, causing the algae - called zooxanthellae which live in the coral - to become ‘stressed out’ and leave the coral. These tiny plant based algae produce about 90% of the food that the coral needs to grow. So, when the coral’s main source of food is gone, the coral turns white, and is left extremely vulnerable (BBC, 2020).
Another key factor is poor water quality that is caused from runoff of sediment, nutrients and contaminants which come from the increase of agriculture, mining and urban and industrial developments along the coast line. Lastly, the rise in population of the Crown of Thorns Starfish is having disastrous effects on the reef due to their coral-based diet (Great Barrier Reef Foundation, 2021). This is only a small number of the threats impacting the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef. If you would like to learn more about the threats the reef is facing, take a look at The Conversation article “The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. There are a whopping 45 reasons why”.
Coral Bleaching. Courtesy of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, 2021.
The Great Barrier Reef Legacy was created by a group of dedicated professionals who live and breathe this unique ecosystem. These dedicated people include tourism operators, educators, marine biologists, scuba divers and engineers. Their mission is to be a global leader in marine expeditions, delivering innovative science and public engagement that creates action. In 2016 and 2017, there were mass bleaching events that took place in the northern region on the reef. Following this, they ran an expedition in 2018 called ‘Search for Solutions.’ This research project looked at a range of different ways that the health of the reef could be improved. They looked at everything from gene-modification to improving heat tolerance, yet all of the ideas would take at least a decade to be successful. This was when they came up with the idea of the ‘Living Coral Biobank’, which has now become their key focus (Great Barrier Reef Legacy, 2021).
The incredible Great Barrier Reef. Courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Legacy, 2021.
Great Barrier Reef Legacy carries out their important work through a number of key projects. One of their key projects is ‘Amplifying Citizen Science’ which demonstrates how citizen science can be incredibly helpful in collating data using a centralised platform. Both citizens and scientists collect data about the reef's health. This data can then be used to find ways to improve the health of the reef. The great part is that it creates community engagement and further awareness of what is happening to the reef.
Collecting data on the reef for the 2019 “Search for Biodiversity” expedition. Courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Legacy, 2019.
The Living Coral Biobank is an incredible project that is dedicated to taking action to save the world’s coral species for the future. The project brings together organisations and individuals to collect living coral specimens and preserve them in a living ‘coral ark.’ They are creating a bank of genetic material and tissue samples to aid in reef research and restoration worldwide. They plan to collect all 800 hard coral species from around the world and hold them in a state of the art holding facility in Port Douglas, in Tropical North Queensland. The project will also use public aquariums and home aquarium collectors to help hold and maintain backup fragments. Corals are one of the few groups of organisms on earth that can be kept alive indefinitely as they grow for thousands of years, as such making the Living Coral Biobank the perfect solution for safeguarding the genetic diversity of corals (Great Barrier Reef Legacy, 2021). The project is well on its way, but much support is still needed to help them collect coral samples and build the biobank facility by 2026.
First look at the plans for the world first living ‘coral ark’. Courtesy of CLADnews, 2020.
Yarn will be supporting the establishment of the biobank. We have partnered with Ecolab Collective, an amazing organisation that helps environmental non-for-profits establish sustainable funding streams. We are currently collaborating to create a beautiful collection of products that represent the reef that will be sold through Yarn and support the Great Barrier Legacy with the incredibly important Living Coral Biobank project. Stay tuned for the collection, coming soon!
If you would like to witness how incredible coral is, take a look at this short video by ABC Science of coral spawning: