Shipping and the Great Barrier Reef
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is an unparalleled marine ecosystem that holds rank as one of the world’s most valuable natural wonders. The abundance of sea life offers both intrinsic and physical benefits, but unfortunately this extraordinary habitat is now threatened from several different angles. One of the greatest threats to the GBR is the presence of popular shipping routes which surround and penetrate the reef. These ships naturally pollute the GBR, but the severest danger lies in the possibility of wrecks spilling oil or other hazardous cargos. History offers many examples of shipwrecks with outcomes that could have been devastating although there has not yet been a major disaster. These events have helped to inspire various regulations aiming to curb the risk of any major incident. Nevertheless, there still remains more room for protective measures in order to insure the safety of such an irreplaceable treasure.
The Great Barrier Reef
The GBR formed about 9,000 years ago during the last interglacial period. As with other coral reefs, it is based upon the structure of billions of coral polyps, and the GBR is the longest coral reef system ever to exist. It is consequently the largest structure created by living creatures and so massive that it can be viewed from outer space (Guynup p.22). The GBR includes 2,900 separate reefs and hundreds various islands and cays. The GBR stretches over 2,000 kilometers up the coast of Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), established in 1975, includes nearly 350,000 square kilometers, which is over half the area covered by all of the protected areas in mainland Australia (Chadwick and Storrie p.1, CRC p.1).
This vast environment serves as the home to an incalculable number of organisms ranging from the microscopic algae zooxanthellae, which transmit energy to the coral, to the bulky dugongs that can reach three meters in length and 400 kilograms in weight. In statistical terms, the GBR is a habitat for 400 coral species, 500 seaweed species, 4,000 mollusk species, 1,500 fish species, 20 sea snake species, six turtle and dugong species, and over 200 bird species. It is additionally visited by about 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The GBR is vital to the survival of many of these species, such as the dugong, whose GBR population is one of the largest in the world. It is not surprising that such an extensive ecosystem was declared a World Heritage Area in 1981 by meeting all four of the natural heritage demands. These criteria involve geological representations of evolution, current biological and ecological processes, outstanding beauty, and considerable biodiversity (Chadwick and Storrie p.1-2, CRC p.1-2, Guynup p.22).
Judging by such natural brilliance it is no wonder coral reefs are considered the “rainforests of the sea,” but the GBR furthermore offers many economic benefits to the humans that...