New research shows that some areas of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest collection of coral in the world, are doing better than others. If the reef is to be protected and preserved, they might take a lesson from Dubai, and consider moving sections of the reef to more hospitable areas nearby.
It’s been a bad month for the reefs. First, a huge swath of reef has experienced coral bleaching due to rising temperatures caused by global warming. But at the same time, new mining contracts have just been approved that conservationists think will further damage the remaining structures.
The damage already done is grim. Rising ocean temperatures are a major factor, as sensitive corals can’t withstand drastic changes. And that seems to have been the cause for bleaching on all but four of the 520 reefs surveyed by a professor from James Cook University.
And all the damage, according to experts, could leave most of those corals dead within months, and it’s likely the reefs would take as much as a decade to recover—if they can at all.
Bu the good news was that the damage was more severe in certain areas, meaning there are still hospitable places for reef activity nearby.
That’s potentially a sign that Australia should consider moving the reefs. Moving threatened corals would, in theory, be a smart long term decision, especially if there’s no evidence that the temperatures and pollution numbers would be any better in the next decade.
Reef health around the world is a persistent concern—except in Dubai. Eight years ago private firms moved a coral reef away from a construction zone to a location better suited for its safety—and for tourism. More than 1,000 boulders weighing a total of five tons were moved.
That move cost about $10 million in 2008. A report from the BBC said that while two thirds of a reef typically die during any attempt at relocation; in Dubai this relocation not only preserved the reef, but caused it to grow by 20 percent over the following five years (and likely more since).
It’s unclear what the total economic impact of the reef has been on the country’s tourism, but Dubai is banking on reef diving as part of its total tourism package. And globally, reef activities create some $30 billion annually in economic value. Dubai must get this, because in 2014 they announced plans for a new underwater tourism project: an underwater city constructed as an explorable theme park. It won’t have reefs immediately, but it could potentially play host to expansions if the money’s right.
None of this is to say that Australia’s problems can be solved in the same ways. Different parts of the world, different oceans, and different economies all mean that the solution isn’t universal. The major difference right now: Dubai is flush with cash and tourism is their primary goal; Australia has other interests: sustainable fuels being chief among them.
But the Great Barrier Reef brings in billions of dollars in tourism each year. And that money doesn’t have to be an alternative to fuel initiatives—it could be alongside.
Conservation is the loudest voice shouting for the reefs to be saved, and everyone would like to see the reef’s protected where they are.
But Australia, like Dubai in 2008, is about to head into a large period of construction in the adjoining spaces. And even after that construction is finished, the new mining systems is going to threaten them, some consideration should be made, in the interest of preserving both the scientific and economic value, to make a drastic change.
Whether and how Australia would study and attempt such a move is another question. But a 20 percent growth after years of bleaching losses would mean more territory to scoop up the tourism value—and no one can deny that money can (safely) move boulders.