My last stop on the ‘Aussie Tour’ was in Cairns, Queensland up in the northeast corner of the country. And there was only one reason I was there—the reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is almost one fifth of the world’s reef area making it the largest coral reef in the world. Actually, the GBR is a chain of 2,900 separate reefs stretching some 1,200 miles along Australia’s east coast. To give you some perspective, the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China and is the only living thing visible from space.
Reefs form where temperatures don’t fall below 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) for long periods, so are usually found between 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Most require very saline water, and the water must be very clear so light can penetrate it. Washed by the warm waters of the South-West Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest system of coral reefs has the perfect environment. The Great Barrier Reef is listed by the World Heritage Trust as a protected site and is therefore managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure that its beauty is maintained for many generations to come.
I booked a boat tour for a day to discover the reef myself. I chose Tusa Dive tours because there would only be about thirty folks on the boat… better than some of the larger trips where you are bumping into more snorkelers under the sea than fish.
It was the rainy season so there was some sediment churned up, but luckily at our spot on the reef, the visibility was pretty good. We did a morning dive and then after a tasty lunch buffet we went down for a second time. The sun was shining and the water was wonderfully warm at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I wasn’t planning to use a wet suit because I hadn’t when I snorkeled in the Galapagos, but then the guides started scaring me with talk of jellyfish and other “sea lice” that sting and bite. I went bare on my first dive and did feel some sharp random stinging here and there and saw a scary looking jellyfish float by. This was enough to scare me into wearing a “shorty” on my next dive. Much better. The sea life was pretty amazing—lots of colorful tropical fish, clown fish, clams, sea anemones, and even a sea cucumber.
Sadly, I didn’t see the coral colors I expected. Global warming is also affecting this precious and magical place.
The concern: As global warming heats the ocean surface, the coral can get bleached-out more often, giving reefs less time to recover. Coral bleaching occurs when the animal organisms that make up the coral die, leaving behind a white limestone skeleton. The biggest way we can help prevent further destruction of coral reefs is to help curb global warming by educating people and making them aware that global warming exists and has consequences. Unfortunately, though, awareness isn’t enough. People have to do something.
The governments of many nations have met and passed bills and mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include the Berlin Mandate and Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is the first international agreement to fight global warming. It was signed by 141 nations, including all European and all other developed industrial nations… except the US and Australia.
The pact went into effect on February 16, 2005, and expires in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol has been celebrated by its backers as a lifeline to save our planet from disastrous human-caused effects of a warming global climate. It sets legally-binding targets for developed countries to reduce greenhouse emissions within 7 years, to about 5% below 1990 levels. To reach this goal, countries must put greenhouse emissions controls on its largest polluters, which are corporations and the military. Productivity will only be maintained if the polluters seek cleaner, renewable alternative energies to replace fossil fuel (gas) energy. Solar, wind, and geothermal energy are examples of renewable sources.
Vice President Al Gore was a main participant in putting the Kyoto Protocol together in 1997. President Bill Clinton signed the agreement in 1997, but the US Senate refused to ratify it, citing potential damage to the US economy required by compliance. The Senate also balked at the agreement because it excluded certain developing countries, including India and China, from having to comply with new emissions standards.
George Bush made campaign promises in 2000 to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. However, in 2001, he pulled the US out of the Kyoto accords as one of the first acts of his presidency. Bush dismissed the Kyoto Protocol as too costly and lately, the White House has even questioned the validity of the science behind global warming claiming that millions of jobs will be lost if the US joins in this world pact.