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The Daily Aus

Why 2 Degrees of Warming is a Big Deal for Coral

When it comes to rising sea temperatures, coral has nowhere to hide. An increase of 2 Degrees doesn’t sound like a lot, but it could be catastrophic. In search of answers, we head to far north Queensland to take a look at one slice of the climate crisis, and meet a few scientists along the way who are taking on the mammoth task of trying to preserve and safeguard the Great Barrier Reef.

Transcript –

Today. I want to talk to you about temperature. Two degrees. Two degrees. Two degrees. Two degrees. Two degrees. Three degrees. Three degrees. We hear a lot about 1.52 and three degrees when it comes to global average temperatures. But what does it all mean? You hear this target mentioned all the time. In many ways it would create a different kind of Australia.

Our cities would bake under frequent heat waves. Storm surges and disastrous flooding already seen twice this year would be a common occurrence and rising sea levels would reshape our coastline. The head of the UN calls out Australia for failing to do more. The clock is ticking. We’re running out of time. The continued investment of fossil fuel projects worldwide means that we are getting uncomfortably close to the likelihood of a two degree world.

The need to act has never been clearer on record breaking heat. Climate change isn’t lurking around the corner. It’s already upon us. In all extreme weather events. The best way to deal with a two degree world is to never get to a two degree world. Welcome to our best case scenario 1.5 degrees. We have brought ourselves right to the edge of a true climate catastrophe.

We’ve got about ten years to get this right, and I really want us as young Australians to try and take this out of the abstract. You’re not just watching a video about climate. We’re working out how to take personal responsibility and personal actions to fix this for our kids. COP26 is a failure. I think it’s embarrassing for Australia.

It’s absolutely appalling. This is a mammoth and complex problem. So for the purpose of this video, we’re going to take a look at one slice of the climate crisis and shine a light on one of Australia’s national treasures. We really need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to secure a better future for the Great Barrier Reef. It’s crazy.

It’s coral or coal. It’s that simple. Now we’re going to show you how you can manifest easy yet fundamental change with your influence that can help save one of Australia’s national treasures. It says even achieving net zero emissions by 2050 would not be enough to revive. A long term outlook for the reef has deteriorated. There’s been six mass bleaching events since the early 1900s.

Four of those have happened since 2016. Good morning, Sam. How are you doing? Where are we also today? Dr. Dean Miller leads an innovative research group called Great Barrier Reef Legacy and see how things are faring over this unseasonably warm summer day. Today, they’re conducting reef health surveys at the outer reef just off the coast of Port Douglas.

It’s a stunning boat ride to the outer reef. And it’s not until you’re right on the reefs doorstep do you even know it’s there? There’s 365 days in a year. How many times did you guys do a year? Not enough. Yeah. Every fortnight we try to get out, but before we suit up and jump into the Coral Sea, I asked Dean and Paul to explain to me exactly what they’re up to.

Why do we need coral? Why is it worth protecting? So they are the fundamental building blocks of this entire ecosystem. The largest living structure on the planet relies on these tiny little organisms that build this beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Corals, on average grow about two centimeters a meaning. This system has had millions of years to evolve and tens of thousands of years of growth has gone into creating the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today.

If we see, you know, 1.5 up to two degrees and global warming, there’s a real risk that we will lose up to 90% if not all reefs around the world. There’s a real risk that in our lifetime the reef will be lost, at least as we know it. It’s not looking good on a sea. Talk me through the methodology of what you’re actually doing down there.

I saw you guys before with clipboards, pencils. Very simple as matching the colors in the chart to the colors of the coral the payload is. The less healthy it’s going to be, the more bleaching it is. It’s an early warning system. So what we’re trying to do is pick up changes, and that triggers a management response. Do we need to send out more research teams to look at a finer scale?

Aerial surveys and what they’re saying at the moment in the central Great Barrier Reef is almost every reef is seeing some level of bleaching. Does the massiveness of this task have a play on your mind? It’s a monumental task that we’re taking on here, diving into the hot 30 degree water. It’s alarmingly obvious to me how these corals are literally cooking.

What’s more, we are in the season of La Nina, which would ordinarily bring with it cooler temperatures and rainfall to the area. That certainly hasn’t stopped the mercury from rising. How do we know when we’re looking at bleached coral? So what happens with bleaching is when the water is too warm for too long, the coral, which is an animal, has algae within its tissue and the algae ends up creating like a toxin.

And the coral says, I can’t put up with this anymore. I need to get rid of you because you’re making me sick. So that’s getting rid of the algae in the tissue, which is getting rid of the colour, which is getting rid of its food source. That colour of the algae is gone, which is why we didn’t see the white skeleton of the coral underneath a very thin layer of tissue.

What we end up seeing is either very fluorescent type coral. So, you know, like of textures, that kind of colour. And it looks beautiful, but it’s very out of character for a reef, seeing for a severely bleached coral, it will be pure white. What we’re seeing is an entire reef system in distress, and it’s only going to get worse as water temperatures continue to rise.

Historically, bleaching has always happened. There’s been historical records of it happening, but there would be many, many years in between a bleaching event so the call could recover, whereas now it’s happening back to back. It’s too quick. They just haven’t got that time to adapt. And how much of those bleaching events would you attribute to climate change? All of them.

Yeah, this is without a doubt directly attributed to climate change. Warming, sea temperatures. They literally cooked in the water that they live in where the end of the summer season. And I can tell you that that coral is struggling in the increased temperature of the water. There is nowhere for that coral to hide, and that is a major problem.

Let’s have a look at what they’re doing with this information and how they’re using this Noah’s Ark of coral samples to build back a reef that I can take my grandchildren to and feel proud about what they’re saying, that they’re going south. Yeah. This is the sustainable race coral farm. We grow corals here for the aquarium trade and now we are working with the Legacy Project to get the corals growing and get the Biobank project running as well.

The coral samples that Dean and Paul were collecting end up right here in an industrial estate in northern Cairns. Not exactly the place you’d expect to find coral. You can have these corals live for hundreds, if not thousands of years in these tanks, and they’re cut down into small sizes. The Biobank that he’s talking about is a living, breathing insurance policy.

So the Great Barrier Reef, it’s placed on a microchip base that tells us where it’s found, the GPS location, the temperature, the depth, the water chemistry on the day. Do you feel like it’s a race against time? Once a year, time slows down. There’s no environmental factors here. Everything is controlled. It’s a breathtaking insight. 85 species collected so far propagated under careful environmental conditions to create healthy, strong coral, coral that can be purchased and grown in household fish tanks.

So we’ll have fragments in our central facility, but will also send them out to people who have tanks in their Landrieu’s keeping corals alive in offices, garages, sheds, workspaces like this so they can look after back up living data of the Great Barrier Reef Coast. We can have every species of coral on the great Barrier Reef in this one tank represented on these little tiles.

So this is absolutely possible. We need young people to support this project. This is not government funded. This is all privately funded. And each one of these individual cold fragments can be sponsored. So you can sponsor your own piece of the Great Barrier Reef. So this area is going to sponsor one with a lot of purple, one if we can find one.

It’s great to play a little role in restoring and preserving the reef. Right. Thank you very much. Every little bit helps.

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what two degrees of warming could look like for Australia, let alone the world. But there is action you can take at a personal level that has very real influence. Yes, it’s crazy. It’s coral vocal. It’s that simple. Now, even if we were able to stop all fossil fuels emissions today, there’s a lag time where the ocean has to react to favourable conditions.

So we’re going to continue to see change for at least a decade. At the end of the day. The financing of fossil fuel industries from banking and financial institutions will continue to contribute to the pollution in our atmospheres and the warming of our oceans. So what can we do about it? We can support Reef Legacy and the other organisations doing phenomenal work on the race.

We can change our power supply and perhaps buy an electric vehicle. We can tell politicians how we feel and we can vote with our wallets and switch our banks or super funds to those that are aligned with our values. This problem isn’t going away, but I know that young Australians are prepared to put in the hard work to save what is the crown jewel of Australia’s natural habitat.

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