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'The situation of bleaching tragedy is being confronted by Great Barrier Reef guides as they continuously encounter inquiries from tourists.'
Climate Environment World News

‘The situation of bleaching tragedy is being confronted by Great Barrier Reef guides as they continuously encounter inquiries from tourists.’

According to scuba diving instructor Elliot Peters, you can visibly observe feelings of regret and sorrow on their faces.

Peters is employed at a resort located on Heron Island, situated in the southern portion of the Great Barrier Reef. Lately, he has been explaining to inquisitive visitors why numerous corals in the vicinity are becoming bleached.

The reef is in the middle of its fifth mass bleaching event in only eight years – an alarming trend driven by global heating in a year that has seen record global ocean temperatures.

Peters has not witnessed a severe coral bleaching event firsthand until this summer. However, he has observed centuries-old boulder corals, known for their long lifespans, experiencing bleaching and exhibiting indications of mortality.

According to him, the situation is actually encouraging him. It is creating opportunities for discussions on climate change and the condition of the reef. He has received messages of gratitude for shedding light on the reality of the situation here.

In 2017, a report estimated that the Great Barrier Reef is a significant source of income for Australia. It was found that the reef supports 64,000 employment opportunities and contributes a total of $6.4 billion to the country’s economy.

However, once the effects of global warming on the reef gained international attention in 2016 and 2017, conflicts began to arise within the tourism industry. One industry leader even dismissed reports of disastrous bleaching as a false claim.

According to Daniel Gschwind, a professor at Griffith University’s tourism institute and head of the committee advocating for reef tourism to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the reef is the country’s top natural draw.

“It presents a difficulty as the phenomenon of global heating directly impacts our products that we ultimately offer.”

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If the coral reef perishes, we also perish.

For numerous years, Gschwind notes that tourism providers were hesitant to discuss the potential impact of climate change with their guests.

The coral reef has undergone significant bleaching events in the years 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and is currently experiencing another in 2024. However, due to its vast size equivalent to that of Italy, the impacts are not consistent throughout the ecosystem.

Each year, certain coral reefs are able to avoid heightened levels of stress, some become bleached but eventually recover their color, and others may not survive. Coral bleaching can increase vulnerability to illnesses, hinder growth, and hinder reproduction.

The government’s scientists have been conducting surveys both in the water and from the air to evaluate the extent of bleaching in the entire reef. However, it may take weeks or even months to obtain a complete understanding of the severity of this year’s bleaching.

The future outlook for the reef is bleak. With ongoing global warming, the likelihood of more frequent and severe episodes of heat stress is increasing.

Diver & Coral Bleeching-1A diver examines bleached coral at Heron Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef.View image in fullscreen

Gschwind explains that effectively conveying a bleaching event is challenging. Once the message reaches a consumer in cities like London or Shanghai, it could be understood as, “the reef is no longer a worthwhile destination.” This poses a significant challenge for the tourism industry and is a source of difficulty for many operators.

The individuals on tourist boats who engage in diving activities are frequently the initial ones to report any issues. This year, these operators have submitted over 5,000 reports to the marine park authority.

According to Gschwind, the industry and operators view their role in society as communicators and defenders.

We observe the consequences of global warming on the natural world, which is crucial for our survival. If the reef perishes, we too will perish. We act as the first line of defense in identifying the state of the planet.

Some Great Barrier Reef guides are suffering ‘ecological grief’ this year, says marine biologist Fiona Merida, as the natural wonder experiences its fifth mass bleaching event in eight years.View image in fullscreen

The impact on emotions caused by a bleached reef

After experiencing consecutive mass bleaching incidents in 2016 and 2017, the park officials collaborated with the tourism sector to create Master Reef Guides. This group now consists of over 120 dive experts who have received training from scientists and indigenous leaders to effectively convey the state of the reef and the dangers it faces.

Fiona Merida, the head of reef education and engagement at the park authority and a marine biologist, believes that providing detailed information to tourism operators about the status of the sites they visit removes emotional bias and allows them to confidently discuss bleaching with visitors.

She states that a few reef guides are experiencing “ecological grief” as they witness the decline of their beloved locations this year. In response, reef guides have implemented a “buddy check” protocol to support each other’s emotional well-being.

Yolanda Waters is founder of advocacy group Divers for Climate and has been diving in the southern section of the reef in recent weeks.

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She recalls, “The coral was bleached as far as I could see. I didn’t have the desire to return to the water. It’s usually a rejuvenating spot for me, so it was terrible not wanting to go back in.”

Waters, a previous diving teacher, conducted research at the University of Queensland where she interviewed over 650 individuals who have visited the reef in recent times.

“The conversations were challenging,” she explains. “Tourists are often very curious and it can be overwhelming when they have spent $300 to visit the reef. One of the most common questions in tourism is, ‘Is the reef deteriorating? Please inform me.'”

The true situation is much more intricate, however they desire to hear from those who observe the reef on a regular basis.

“We discovered that [tourists] are willing to learn about climate change. In fact, not only were the majority receptive to the information, but they also expressed a desire for more. Additionally, they were interested in potential actions that they could take.”

Finding the right balance can be challenging: how can we effectively encourage action without discouraging people? Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the truth – there is still a great deal worth preserving and it often gets overlooked.

A cowtail stingray glides over bleached coral.View image in fullscreen

“The current moment is here.”

Tahn Miller has been employed as a dive instructor and guide for Wavelength Reef Cruises in Port Douglas, located in the northern region of Queensland, for a duration of 15 years.

Miller recalls being told tales from ten years ago about dive guides in other sections of the reef who were instructed not to discuss climate change with guests because it could lead to the belief that the reef was deteriorating or not worth visiting.

According to him, there has been a shift in the industry where more divers are now comfortable discussing climate change with visitors, but only if the visitors are open to hearing about it.

“I have noticed that there are individuals who remain skeptical about climate change in every group, but I have also observed a decrease in their numbers,” he states. “I make it clear that I am not trying to persuade anyone, but I want to share my personal experiences and be truthful with them.”

Miller reported seeing reef restoration following the 2016 bleaching event. However, his positive outlook has diminished in recent times.

Some travel companies are engaged in small coral reef restoration projects in the destinations they serve, including the planting of new coral.

“He reports that a number of the corals I have planted, which amounted to hundreds, have perished [during this summer].”

“Now is the time to act and bring about change. If we fail to do so, we risk losing vast stretches of reef.”

Returning to Heron Island, Peters reports that he often gets approached by tourists inquiring about ways to aid the reef.

“I initiate by encouraging them to recognize their gratitude towards the reef and the necessity for further action. I conclude by giving them one or two pieces of advice,” he stated.

I believe individuals should exercise their right to voice their opinions and educate themselves on the policies of potential candidates before voting. Additionally, I urge them to consider the institutions holding their finances, and whether those institutions support investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Source: theguardian.com