Scleractinian Coral % Cover - Great Barrier Reef (1986-2012)
Data from 2016 Australia State of the Environment - Marine Environment Report
Sadly, this is not a trend that is unique to the Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs worldwide are in decline. Reasons include anthropogenic climate change, overfishing and subsequent trophic collapse, invasive species outbreaks, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, nutrient runoff, and pollution - or any combination of the above. With such steep declines and the slew of causative problems to address, you may wonder; why bother? Degraded or extirpated reefs are not lost causes. Nature is vivacious and springs back like grass after a long winter. These underlying issues can be solved by us and things are not so far gone that changing our ways is folly. Reduce your consumption and waste, and vote for people who do what is right.
We can also help nature do its thing. While we work to solve the underlying issues which we have created, we can help nature by means of assisted adaptation to warmer climates and by promoting natural settlement and recruitment of coral larvae. Coral colonies produce millions of offspring in mass spawning events and we can assist with recovery from mortality by promoting the survival of these offspring (see “What I Do” below soon). Not all hope is lost. Do not give up on this natural treasure of an ecosystem which feeds us and protects us (see “Why are coral reefs important” below soon). The reality of things is grim but the people who face this reality as a line of work have not given up - and neither should you.
This trend is particularly troubling because no one seems to care. Ignoring the slight uptick at the beginning of 2016 (due to Google improving their analytics), there hasn’t been a significant increase in searches regarding coral bleaching. Even after the dreadful bleaching season of 2016, 2017, and likely the coming 2018 southern hemisphere summer, few people even did a simple Google search. Sensationalist headlines flooded the internet, most notably an obituary of the Great Barrier Reef, yet no change happened. It’s important to remember that this data is relative to all searches. We may see more searches in a given year but they are swamped out by people searching for other things. But is this lack of concern really the whole picture?
Yes and no. Plenty of people care, just not in the countries that are emitting the most carbon. Lets take a look at the top 10 Google search regions on the right and their per capita carbon emissions from 2013. Fiji (1.9), Maldives (2.7), Australia (16.3), Jamaica (2.8), Puerto Rico (NA), Taiwan (10.3), Singapore (9.4), Philippines (1.0), New Zealand (7.6), Hong Kong (6.3). A huge proportion of searches in small island nations (which emit little carbon) are dedicated to coral bleaching. However, this is for the entirety of the 2004-2018 data. If you search by country, it appears that searches regarding coral bleaching have declined or have remained constant over the years, even in the midst of recent massive bleaching events.