Seventh Wonder Posted by Reef Magazine - 15 November 2014 It is visible from outer space, a massive living thing of incredible beauty that astronauts say defies description. Up close, it is likewise difficult to accurately describe the Great Barrier Reef – the much used ‘kaleidoscope of colour’ does little to conjure accurate images of this living coral formation, teeming with incredibly diverse life forms, fish and mammals, many unique to the area. Certainly, the Great Barrier Reef is a famous location, which draws visitors from all over the globe to marvel at its delicate beauty and to experience first hand one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It is a vast living thing that is both beautiful to behold and absolutely fascinating in its complexity. Whether it is your first visit to this spectacular location or you are a regular to the area, the effect is no less powerful, which is why the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef has struck such a chord with so many people. From government to marine park operators including Hamilton Island, the message is very clear, that everything possible must be done to ensure the continued health of the reef. These active parties are working together with communities and visitors to the area to best serve the reef and protect against some very real threats. The fact is though, that this incredible natural wonder is very much in danger of irreversible damage as a result of climate forces and global warming. If left unchecked, scientists say that in the foreseeable future (and, in a worst case scenario), the reef could literally vanish forever if more people are not made aware and are prepared to act on its behalf. What is the Problem? One of the most serious and immediately recognisable threats to the Great Barrier Reef is coral bleaching, a condition caused by even a small, but prolonged increase in water temperature that causes the corals to become stressed and bleach – extended exposure to higher than usual water temperatures can cause corals to die, with devastating effects on the entire ecosystem of the area. Corals are living things, which form the foundation of reefs. They maintain a special working relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that live within their tissue and rely on them for life. This symbiotic relationship means that the coral obtains most of its food through the algae and the algae in turn enjoys a safe place to live. The existence of the zooxanthellae also comes with an added bonus – at least for human admirers – in that it provides the coral with its rich colours. How will climate change affect our oceans? The detrimental effects of climate change occur when higher than usual levels of carbon dioxide enter the earth’s atmosphere, wreaking havoc on the earth’s climate and being absorbed into the oceans in increasing amounts, making seawater more acidic. The flow on effect too, is significant not just for the reef but the associated ecosystems of the area – islands, wetlands, tidal streams and waterways linked to the sea – and all of the creatures relying on them for their very survival. Happily, there is no shortage of individuals, businesses and community groups willing to play their part in conserving the reef. Fantasea Adventure Cruising, one of the largest marine operators in the area is very much involved in the reef’s preservation, not least through the Fantasea Foundation which allocates over $100,000 each year for monitoring and management of its own activities on the reef. In addition to this, Fantasea manages research vessels and monitors the marine park for the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and is an active member of the Eye on the Reef program. Marine research co-ordinator for the Fantasea Foundation, marine biologist Emily Smart literally throws herself into her work, from monitoring species diversity and the lurking Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, to taking snorkel tours through the reef and sharing her vast knowledge of the coral formations and species of the Great Barrier Reef. Hume Campbell, CEO of Fantasea Adventure Cruising says the research is an integral part of the company’s business and vital to the reef’s long term future. “The operations of Fantasea Adventure Cruising enable us to visit this wonderful structure everyday. With this ability goes the responsibility of understanding what we may be doing with or to the reef and then through a scientific approach, we can modify ours and others behaviour through education,” he says. Hamilton Island, also involved with the Eye on the Reef program contributes in myriad ways, from initiatives as simple as phasing out petrol buggies in favour of electric, to major schemes such as the island’s waste water plant, which takes over 90 percent of the treated waste water to be used irrigating gardens and parklands. Indeed, even architecture plays its part, not only in incorporating green solutions to new projects, but also in ensuring they are sympathetic to the surrounding environment visually. While strict licensing ensures that there are never too many people inside the Marine Park at any given time or keeping potentially damaging activities away from ‘green’ zones, it is ultimately those who enjoy and work on the reef who are able to bring the message to the millions of visitors each year. It’s all about education says Hume Campbell: “The knowledge that has been accumulated by many different activities needs to be related, understood and then communicated to the general populace, so that they through enlightenment have a different view on how to manage their behaviour within the reef area,” he says. And education does form a significant part of the process, not only through the operators and islands of the region. The Reef Guardian Schools program, started in ’03 with 25 schools Australia-wide and is flourishing, including the Hamilton Island State School, where students become actively involved in promoting best practice and devise initiatives to help spread the message of conserving the reef, regardless of where people live. Other businesses in the area, from farmers to industry on the mainland are making a concerted effort to improve the quality of water run-off to the reef while Reef Guardian Councils are likewise working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to foster environmental stewardship in communities. The reef is a priceless treasure for all to enjoy and for all to help preserve. Regardless of your proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the smallest efforts in reducing your carbon footprint will have a flow-on effect that will in the end reap considerable rewards. Looking to use alternative sources of power or simply planting more native plants. Just one visit to this incredible part of the world will leave you in no doubt as to its importance now and for the future and you will want to play your part in preserving this natural wonder. About the Author 'REEF Magazine – Hamilton Island & the Great Barrier Reef' is a magazine that showcases all that Hamilton Island has to offer, from events, to an exciting array of activities, attractions and more. You can pick up your complimentary copy of 'REEF Magazine' at any Hamilton Island hotel, and you can also access some of our feature articles right here on The Island Blog.