Philippa Bradbury, The Daily Telegraph, September 15, 2017
The Great Barrier Reef is not “dead”, the leader of a new initiative to salvage the natural wonder has urged. Andy Ridley, the founder of Earth Hour and man behind a new campaign called Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has warned against speaking in such dire terms about the colourful coral world off the coast of Australia, claiming it remains “one of the healthiest [reefs] in the world”.
“[To say the Great Barrier Reef is dead] implies that we have given up on what is, to me, the most amazing natural icon on our planet and that is a red line we should not cross,” he said. “The state of the Great Barrier Reef is appalling but, in reference to its size, it’s still one of the healthiest in the world.”
The Reef, composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs and covering some 133,000 square miles, has suffered at the hands of coral bleaching events both this year and last, a stress reaction brought about by unusually warm water temperatures, damaging more than 90 per cent of surveyed areas. The effects of climate change has contributed to the loss of half of the world’s coral.
The Great Barrier Reef is the size of 70 million football fields and plays host to a hugely diverse ecosystemCredit: Tourism and Events Queensland/Christian Botella
Numerous commentators over the last few years have begun to sound the death knell for the reef, which attracts more than two million visitors to Australia every year. While the reef is most certainly under threat, and has narrowly missed being classified as endangered by the Unesco World Heritage committee, the story is a more nuanced one than those words imply, Ridley says.
The long-time advocate for the environment will fully launch his new project, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, in November 2017. Using an open source business model similar to that of WWF’s Earth Hour campaign - an annual event which encourages people around the world to turn off non-essential lights for an hour, the organisation aims to build a global community united behind a common cause.
Coral bleaching is a natural stress reaction to rising water temperature and when blinding white can still be rejuvinated if given enough timeCredit: The Ocean Agency XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Richard Vevers
“Globally we need to crank up the action and get into a more adult conversation of what we need to do. If we wait for our politicians, we will be waiting forever and it will be too late.” said Ridley.
The call is for citizen action; for individuals to become the future guardians of the reef. The campaign is aiming for the 7 per cent of the reef designated to tourism to become the engine behind gathering information on its health. With thousands of boats out on the reef at any one time, they become platforms for citizen science, research and recruiting other contributors.
“We want to track back the lineage of every citizen back to someone or some action on the reef itself. If we can get this right, it’s going to be the first operation to quantify the effect of the actions happening all over the world. We want to illustrate the effect of a mass movement.” said Ridley.
Through posts on social media platforms, the reef can be seen in real time and certain trends will be observed. Knowledge of the reef can be transferred across the world to assist other programs.
One such program is Eye On the Reef, a reef monitoring and assessment program run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authorit y. “It is arguably one of the biggest citizen science projects that people can participate in. It is part of our sightings network and as managers of the reef, we use it to get a picture of what people are seeing in the Marine Park” said Fred Nucifora, Director of the Reef HQ Aquarium .
“While there is a requirement for government support, what this actional movement requires is people. Local actions on a global scale result in global change.”.