The Daily Aztec

We must protect our Great Barrier Reef

by Shayne Jones, Staff Writer

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Sun-pierced water hugging the tanned Australian coastline tickles a reef ripe with corals painted fuchsia, emerald and cerulean.

Orange and white striped Clown fish dodge in and out of their tingly anemone bungalows while wrinkled sea turtles paddle lazily through the water column, letting the gentle current guide their vagabond travels.

It is a portrait of innocence, tranquility and brilliance.

At least it used to be.

The United Nations, in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , issued an alert on Oct 8 that dictates a myriad of global repercussions that can and will be instigated by an increase to the global mean temperature 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2040.

Experts on the panel specifically pointed to the impending demise of corals that inhabit Australia’s monstrous Great Barrier (130,000 sq mi), Great Southern (27,000 sq mi), Shark Bay and Ningaloo reefs, as well as the Gulf of Carpentaria.

According to a New York Times article covering the report, as much as two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral has already been compromised by a natural phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

Yes, the process is natural — but the frequency and repetition at which scientists are observing these bleaching events is unprecedented.

Coral bleaching is the stress response expressed by corals when they experience a water temperature or acidity too high to thrive in, ecology doctoral student Laís Lima explained in an interview on Oct 23.

A photosynthetic micro-biome called zooxanthellae partners with the coral, capturing sunlight from above and providing the coral with nutrients, as well as giving it its vibrant pigmentation. Since the process of producing a coral reef is so energetically expensive, the only way for coral to thrive is through this symbiotic relationship. However, when the coral becomes stressed, it will release its photosynthetic friend and reveal a bare-naked white skeleton underneath.

Lima’s research revolves around the effects of high temperatures on corals and the investigation of mechanisms that allow corals to be resilient after a bleaching event occurs.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing that corals bleach,” said Lima. “However, if it’s too frequent and too long, that can become a problem.”

Massive outbreaks like the ones that Lima observes in her research were not common until roughly five to ten years ago, and they’re one culprit in causing economic devastations that could potentially rise to as expensive as $54 trillion worldwide.

If you were waiting for the right time to start panicking, here’s your cue.

“Global warming” is a term as famously infamous (and incendiary) as “nuclear war” in the Trump-Jong-un era.

We love to hate it and we love to ignore that it is more real of a threat than it is a scare tactic.

That, or we’re the people who only see death and despair when nature appears in the headlines.

“A lot of times, environmentalism focuses too much on the bad feelings of guilt and it’s all heavy feelings,” said Lima. “It’s on us biologists to show people more of the positives than the negatives.”

The Marine Ecology and Biology Student Association (MEBSA) of SDSU is a research and outreach community that focuses on fostering collaboration between the scientific community and public of San Diego County.

One of its graduate students, Robert Dunn, is an Ecology PhD candidate like Lima and a researcher at the Coastal Marine Institute Laboratory (CMIL).  

He recently spent three months in Panama working with the Smithsonian Research Institute studying coral and its algal competitors.

Dunn’s passion for marine biology stems from all the time he has spent immersing himself in the “beauty of nature,” and he committed, along with MEBSA, to extending that beauty to the general public.

Each year, MEBSA hosts a marine science open house during which the CMIL opens its doors to between 700 and 800 people who can observe pop up exhibits that the faculty members and students prepare.

These events and several others that MEBSA hosts allows kids and their parents to dip their toes into the captivating underwater laboratory that MEBSA scientists are privileged enough to spend most of their time.

Both Dunn and Lima shared stories from their childhoods of intimate encounters they had with the ocean that drove the passion that they have followed into adulthood.

“I’m a believer that it’s all about emotional connections.” said Lima. “We only care about anything when we have a true emotional connection with something.”

Our unadulterated awe of mother nature dissolved somewhere in the wake of the bulldozers that swarm the horizon like flies.

The empathy that tethers our hearts to those that dive beneath the waves is washed away along with the plastic spoils of our trashy hoards

We’ve lost our emotional connection, it’s as simple as that.

It’s time to get it back.  

Shayne Jones is a junior studying journalism.

 

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