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The Great Barrier Reef Is Not Dead (Yet)

By SARA CASARETO

A few weeks ago, Outside Magazine published an article titling itself as the obituary for the Great Barrier Reef, which is located off the coast of Australia. The article stated that the Great Barrier Reef finally met its demise in 2016, which is untrue. Only about 22 percent of the reef is actually dead, although the rest of the reef is under serious environmental pressures, according to research by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“I have heard people saying the reef is ‘dead,’ which is concerning to me because I feel like that mentality is going to make people give up on trying to save what is left of this natural resource rather than doing their best to change their habits to help protect it,” said Lauren Twele, a sophomore marine science biology major and president of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC).

This “obituary” quickly became viral, especially on Facebook, alarming many and causing the general public to create the misconception that this natural wonder no longer exists. The Great Barrier Reef at this moment is under threat from various human-made problems such as climate change, illegal fishing and run-off.

As shown by the reaction to Outside Magazine’s article, many people are unaware of the current state of the world’s environment. Russell Brainard, chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, told the Huffington Post he expects the obituary was meant to highlight the urgency of the situation. But for those individuals who are not informed about the current state of the reef, they “are going to take it at face value that the Great Barrier Reef is dead,” Brainard said.

Here on campus there are various clubs that promote environmental consciousness and sustainability in student life, such as Roots & Shoots and SEAC.

“Everything you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make,” said Alana Boyles, a senior marine science biology major and president of Roots & Shoots. “Something as simple as recycling your plastic grocery bags at proper bag collection centers [like] Publix on the corner of Bayshore can ensure that these items don’t end up in the trash stream, and that reduces their likelihood of being blown into the Bay. Once in the water, it’s only a matter of time before our trash ends up on the [Great Barrier Reef].”

The Great Barrier Reef is home to over 5,000 organisms, from molluscs, to corals, to a wide array of fish, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and it supports everything in the water as well as anything that interacts with the reef, including birds and humans. It is the largest coral reef system in the world, and due to oceanic and air currents, is affected by actions that occur even in the Western Hemisphere here in Tampa.

The decisions made by students here at UT can either directly or indirectly impact the Great Barrier Reef and either contribute or detract from the problem. One easy way to cut down on a student’s impact on the environment is by taking advantage of the recycling bins on campus. Recycling and throwing away trash appropriately will cut down on a lot of misplaced waste. There are three single stream recycling centers on campus, where any recyclable material can be brought, and they are located in the Austin, McKay and Morsani parking lots. SEAC and Roots & Shoots both highlight the importance of this simple act to cut down on pollution and  preserve the world’s water habitats.

“Why is it important to be environmentally conscious?” Boyles said. “Because you live on Earth, and even if Earth doesn’t give out in your lifetime, it probably will in your children’s lifetime if consumption and pollution carry on at the same rate.”

Sara Casareto can be reached at Sara.Casareto@spartans.ut.edu.

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