Protect the Reef, Protect Ourselves


I was certain that the photos of magenta, green and golden corals, crinoids, anemones and fish in the dive boat brochures had been enhanced. No actual coral reefs looked that exquisite in real life, did they? I prepped my camera and donned my dive gear. As my dive buddy and I landed in the water and sank deep below the surface, the brilliant world below came into view. Jacques Cousteau’s words echoed in my ears: “Through the window of my mask I see a wall of coral, its surface a living kaleidoscope of lilac flecks, splashes of gold, reddish streaks and yellows, all tinged by the familiar transparent blue of the sea.” If anything, those dazzling brochure photos failed to capture the energy and diversity of life on the actual Great Barrier Reef – truly one of the living wonders of the world.

Visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living thing. It is composed of tiny coral polyps, plantlike animals that quietly grow atop one another to construct enormous stony structures that stretch over 2,000 kilometers, support over 1,500 fish species and 400 coral species, inject $6 billion a year into the Australian economy and support over 60,000 jobs. This incredible ecosystem is world-famous as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2009 National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Mission Blue founder Dr. Sylvia Earle identified the Coral Sea in which it lies as a “Hope Spot” – a special area critical to the health of the ocean. It is also imperiled by a barrage of threats, most recently resulting from Australia’s coal mining boom, and may soon be labeled as a “World Heritage in danger.”

When I visited Australia from the U.S. for nine months as a marine biology student in 2007, I —> Read More