In an era of rapid environmental shifts, social changes and unprecedented economic development, a worldwide demand and need for a relevant research against the effect of climate change on the environment has never been greater or more urgent.
Globally, more than 300 million people depend on the ecosystem services that coral reefs provide, for their livelihoods and food security. Listed as one of the seven natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef has been registered on the World Heritage List in 1981 (UNESCO Convention), indicating its importance to the world.
Coral reefs are rapidly degrading due to multiple pressures of the climate change. Since the 1980s, rising sea surface temperature owing to global warming have triggered unprecedented mass bleaching of corals. Bleached corals suffer physiological damages, and prolonged bleaching often leads to high levels of coral mortality. In 2020 the Great Barrier Reef has experienced its most widespread bleaching event on record, with the south of the reef bleaching extensively for the first time. This marks the third mass bleaching event on the reef in just the last five years. The cumulative, combined footprint of the recent major bleaching events now covers almost the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In order to fight the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, different marine authorities are conducting researches and experiments with the aim of finding a solution for the protection and the safeguard of the reefs of the world. One of the most trusted scientific adviser in Australia is the AIMS (Australian Institute of Marine Science), which has spent more than 40 years creating unprecedented knowledge of tropical marine environments. Its strong point is the National Sea Simulator, an huge laboratory where the scientists can develop their more deep researches about the reef. Opened in August 2013, the Sea Simulator facilities enable researchers to emulate future marine conditions such as elevated temperatures and increased acidity. During the last years, AIMS with the joined work of James Cook University and ARC (Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) is developing a significant project about assisted evolution, creating hybrid corals more resilient to bleaching events. The scientists are studying a heat-resistant strain that could withstand the rising ocean temperatures, aiming to create a “Super-Coral” which will be transplanted along the Great Barrier Reef. This breakthrough research hopes for counteract some of the effects of coral bleaching, which are ravaging large parts of the reef. For the Australian Government the reasons for saving the Great Barrier Reef are multiple. It supports 64,000 jobs (mostly related with tourism) and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy. Seen the importance of the Great Barrier Reef for the Australian tourism economy, even tour operators are conducting experiment on the reef for its restoration from the bleaching events. For example, Quicksilver Group, a tour operator which offer snorkeling and diving tourist packages in the reefs outward Port Douglas, decided to undertake an experiment never seen before due to the loss of corals in the high visual area of their pontoon, where the tourists begins their immersions in the Agincourt ribbon reef. This ground-breaking project involves the installation of mesh structures underwater to grow corals connected to a power source. They have placed three steel mesh panels of 1.5 x 3 metres over an area of coral rubble in order to initially stabilize the rubble and allow to the small “recruit colonies” of begin their growth process. The mesh is then attached to a power source and will receive a constant low volt of electricity. The very low voltage rates are enough to stimulate growth on the metal frames by allowing the assisted corals to deposit calcium carbonate at a rate of up to three to five times greater than normal. Not all these interventions taken by the global and local authorities might be enough in order to secure a future for coral reefs. The risk of an extinction of the reefs in the world is more than ever real and this requires urgent and rapid actions to reduce global warming. To steer coral reefs through the next century, we will need to be aware of their importance and most of all responsible of our actions as human being part of this wonderful planet called Earth.