THE BLOG

The Death Of The Great Barrier Reef Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

25/10/2016 16:40
bluejayphoto via Getty Images

It is hard for environmental news to garner world headlines, but last week one piece of devastating information managed to do just that - the news that the Great Barrier Reef was dead.

It all started with a tongue-in-cheek obituary by Outside magazine, which read: "The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old." Unsurprisingly, the news caused an outcry on social media.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem and more than 2 million people visit it each year. But coral bleaching, fishing, mining, and burning fossil fuels have contributed to the destruction of 93% the reef over several decades, putting it in danger of extinction.

But it is not yet dead. There is still hope.

Marine conservation organisations are working with governments and scientists to help improve water quality and limit the exploitation of reefs. We should all support their initiatives with donations.

But that will not be enough. With the Great Barrier Reef, much like our numerous other impending natural disasters around the world resulting from climate change, it is not about handing the problem over to someone else.

The world is more aware of the issue now than ever before and tackling it head-on is vital, but this means a global change of personal habits. Recycling, cutting back on energy consumption and using less plastic all help, but we need six billion people to recycle and use less plastic all at the same time to really make a change.

But is the Reef just the tip of the iceberg? Across the globe, countless tipping points have now been reached because of climate change.

I am a mountaineer and I have seen first-hand the effects of climate change in all of the world's mountain ranges, from the Himalayas to the Andes, from the Alps to the Caucasus.

Glaciers are retreating at a ridiculously fast pace, iconic snow-capped peaks like Kilimanjaro are becoming brown in colour and whole valleys are in danger of being flooded by lakes that were frozen just a few years ago.

At the same time, jungles are being wasted by deforestation and deserts are expanding across sub Saharan Africa, threatening countless communities. No area has been spared the rapidly melting ice, the rising seas and the warmer temperatures.

In the span of my career alone, the sport of mountaineering become far more dangerous because of climate change. Rising temperatures and freezing altitudes on mountains have increased the danger of rockfall but more importantly, the change in climate has affected animals' hibernation habits, leading them to wake up early and in many cases starve because of a lack of food availability.

The entire ecosystem is being destabilised.

A good example of how this change is noticeably affecting places in a physical sense is on Mount Everest, where ice would traditionally cover the ground at base camp until the end of May, but now it is full of running water by April.

Climbing the mountain nowadays means regularly altering your plans because of the impact of climate change but in a larger, more destructive sense, those glaciers feed the rivers that flow into India and affect millions of people.

This isn't just on Everest, worldwide glaciers are retreating kilometres in just a few years.

This is more than just a salutary warning; the unspoken question is: "Have we passed the tipping point, or are we on it right now?" Are our recent efforts, all of the emerging technologies and our new interest in saving the planet just too late?

The tourism industry has to play a role in educating people about the effects of climate change and with my travel company, I take people to see the Himalayas, the Andes, Kilimanjaro and other mountainous regions so they can witness for themselves the effects of climate change.

It's important for people to see these changes with their own eyes because it is truly humbling what humankind has done to the world - humbling and frightening. So it's a very motivating influence in changing people's habits in the way they live. We need that guilt and shame to force us to change.

It isn't all doom and gloom though - there are some success stories.

This week, outgoing US President Barack Obama quadrupled an area of marine conservation in Hawaii to 582,578 square miles, making it the world's largest marine conservation area, at twice the size of Texas. Hawaiian senator Brian Shatz called it "one of the most important actions a President has ever taken for the health of our oceans". This shouldn't be a standalone moment though - we should be attempting to make these types of decisions everywhere

I have stood on the top of Mount Everest and I can tell you that the view, five miles high in the sky, does change you. It is a memory that grows with time, you never forget that feeling of looking down on the earth.

Maybe President Obama's view of the world from his position as President of the USA made him realise the importance of doing his bit to protect the earth, much as my own small adventures have given me a similar sense of responsibility. But one thing is for sure, we all need to take notice of things like the sad state of the Great Barrier Reef and take our own actions.

Gavin Bate is the owner of Adventure Alternative - an award-winning travel company offering trips to countries including Nepal, Borneo, Kenya, Morocco and Russia.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS