Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is in a bit of trouble. Back-to-back coral bleaching events brought on by warming waters have devastated areas of the Reef over the past two years, and 2018 has brought another feisty and familiar foe: the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. Things are so dire that the Australian government has announced a AU$60 million (US$48 million) plan to preserve the world’s largest living structure, including using submerged fans to pump cold water over the top of it and an “all-out assault” on the starfish. But environmental experts are wondering how much impact this likely to have, and whether it is simply a way of avoiding a larger, more complex issue.
What’s up with the reef?
Coral bleaching comes about as a result of abnormal sea conditions (such as warmer waters), which cause heat stress on the algae that lives inside the coral. This leads the coral to expel the algae from their tissue and, because the colorful algae are vital to their health, their departure leaves the coral whitened, withering and in danger of dying completely.