Climate change certainly isn’t the only threat to the reef’s health. Pollution and waste disturb natural processes in a multitude of ways. Chemicals used in agricultural farming eventually make their way to the sea, disturbing ecosystems.
Illegal dumping is a huge concern regarding the reef, and one that is easily avoidable. However, just yesterday it was discovered that a Hong-Kong flagged bulk carrier dumped food waste onto the GBR.
The dumping breached the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act of 1983. Australian Maritime Law allows for dumping garbage into the sea – a problem that the government usually declines to address – if the dumping occurs 12 nautical miles from the nearest land and “far” from the GBR. Hope Star Shipping Company Ltd was fined 5,000 for the dumping.
In January, 730 cubic meters of dredge spoil was dumped onto the GBR, leading to a $6600 fine for the Gladstone Ports Corporation. The Australian Federal Environment department claimed that it did not “result in any adverse impacts on the reef.”
More pressing than physical dumping is indirect pollution. Models estimate that 22% of the world’s reefs are threatened by land-based pollution. Specifically, how we treat the land – whether it be with garbage or chemicals – makes its way to the sea. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and human sewage are great contributing factors to failing ecosystems.
Pollutants alter species composition, meaning that the coral can no longer obtain energy from light because of the turbidity of water. Sedimentation is a huge component of pollution – farming pesticides from the land flow into the ocean through runoff. The sediments carry pollutants and fertilizers that affect coral communities.
Here is a photo of sedimentation routes on the reef:
The GBR is under great threat to sedimentation because of Australia’s growing agricultural land use. How can we prevent pollution if our entire way of life depends on the process that creates it? Can we ever find a way to farm without pesticides? The GBR, and many ecosystems throughout the ocean, depend on our ability and willingness to innovate.