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© Lock the Gate Alliance

Call it “Greed 101.” In an attempt to keep revenue flowing into the country, Australia has shown a willingness to sacrifice not only one of its greatest environmental assets, but act as though it never existed.

According to leading reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) will experience irreversible damage in just 16 short years. Approximately half of the Reef has disappeared since the 1980s. With such a big crisis at hand, one has to wonder why the Reef and Australia in general were cut from a recent UN report on climate change. The answer comes in the form of one simple word: Tourism.

Great Barrier Reef. (Photo Credit: Lock the Gate Alliance / Flickr)

Over 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing coral bleaching. (Photo Credit: Lock the Gate Alliance / Flickr)

Purportedly, the sections regarding the Reef and Tasmanian forests were removed from the report following interference from the Australian Department of Environment, alleging fears that the references would wound and reverse tourism in these areas.

Adam Markham, lead author of the report and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was shocked when he heard that parts of the report had been omitted, but feels that the Australian government’s attempts to hide the truth behind what’s occurring will serve little to no purpose.

“You can read in the newspapers almost every day what the threats – including global warming – are to the Great Barrier Reef, so I don’t think anything we would have put in the report would have been a surprise to anyone… Rather than have a negative effect on tourism, I think this information would have helped galvanize the international community to want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level where we might be able to reduce the impact on the [Great Barrier Reef] in the long term.”

Other conservationists, such as Greenpeace’s Shani Tager were also unable to take the news well regarding Australia’s omissions from the report.

Bleaching coral near the Keppel Islands. Note the normal, healthy-colored coral in the background. (Image Source: Creative Commons)

Bleaching coral near the Keppel Islands. Note the normal, healthy-colored coral in the background. (Image Source: Creative Commons)

“We want an explanation…over how this can happen and an investigation into this decision… The Australian public is owed an explanation over how and why this happened, and immediate steps put in place to ensure our scientists are independent of government intervention.”

The section pulled from the report has since been published by Guardian Australia. It details the poor, deteriorating health of the Reef, and how approximately 93 percent of the Reef’s coral population is impacted by bleaching.

While many factors are contributing to coral death, the primary culprit appears to be climate change caused by none other than excessive carbon dioxide emissions. Warmer waters increase coral bleaching, an event that never occurred en masse until 1979 – and acidifying oceans are adding the icing to the growing danger cake.

Without the GBR, other dangers will inevitably present themselves over time. University of Queensland scientist Selina Ward explains in her new report, “Lights Out for the Reef,” that, “One of the most important functions of the reef is as a wave barrier. That protection will be lost… Without the reef, a lot of islands will be swamped.”

As Time mentions, the GBR covers an area larger than Italy, and serves as shelter and food sources to some several thousand species. Furthermore, the Reef generates six billion dollars each year from those who would seek to swim and snorkel through its vast, coral jungles. Does Australia not realize that should the Reef ever disappear and die, as many believe it will, that six billion dollars ceases to exist? Should the Reef die, much of Australia’s tourism would die with it, and it is in the government’s best interest to value it and keep it healthy.

As Wilderness Society director Lyndon Schneiders explains, “Censoring a report does not diminish the threats to tourism from climate change… It makes the Australian government look petty and ridiculous, and hampers transparent debate about climate change in Australia.”

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