I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security.

Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend? Robert Redford

Human Impact on the Great Barrier Reef

Introduction

Coral reefs are the homes of some of the most diverse ecosystems and biologically productive habitats. The Great Barrier Reef is known as the largest biological organism in the world. The balanced ecology of the Great Barrier Reef is one that is vulnerable to even slightest human influence. In these times, human activity has intensified to a level where our actions have extended to the coral reefs on a global scale. Today ³The diversity, frequency, and scale of human impacts on coral reefs are increasing to the extent that reefs are threatened globally´ (Climate Change). The ripple of human activity has not only affected the corals, but also the surrounding biodiversity that coexist within these systems. The question that we want to answer in our research is, to what extent has human activity changed the coral reef systems? We will relate our findings on the coral reefs to specific data and graphs on the Great Barrier Reefs.

Over-fishing, pollution and global warming are main factors that are tipping the equilibrium of the ecosystems within the coral reefs. So far a fifth of the reefs have been destroyed and are not recovering, a quarter of the reefs are endangered and another quarter face long-term collapse (Spotts). Global warming that has been induced by human activity has affected the reefs by creating warmer temperatures in the waters that will have adverse effects on these highly productive ecosystems. Aggressive fishing has caused major disruptions to the food web and in turn will have a negative domino effect. Overexploitation of marine life disrupts the entire stability of oceanic life because it depletes keystone plant and animal life. Pollution is another major threat to the health and stability of the Great Barrier Reef¶s ecosystem. Development and farming off of Australia¶s coast is harming the coral reef habitat with dangerous runoff and sedimentation that may eventually destruct the fragile coral reefs.

Effects of Climate Change on Marine Ecosystems
Climate change has had a significant impact on the marine environments throughout the world. Global warming is caused by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap in solar radiation to keep the heat within the atmosphere of the earth. Due to the industrial era, greenhouse gases levels have escalated in the past century. The result is intensified solar radiation and higher temperatures throughout the planet, which has a negative effect on marine ecosystems. Higher temperatures will melt the polar ice caps and raise the sea level, some have predicted sea level to rise up to 80cm by the end of the century (AU). The increased UV radiation will hinder the ability of plants and algae to photosynthesize. The result of this is that less energy is available overall in the marine ecosystems. Climate change has a fatal impact on the oceanic environment and more specifically harm the coral reef ecosystems.

Science of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs live in a symbiotic relationship with the millions of microscopic algae called zooxanthallae. These algae reside within the tissues of the corals where the corals provide protection and nutrients to zooxanthellae. At the same time the zooxanthellae aid the corals in photosynthesis and nutrient production, fastering the growth of the corals (Miller 2007). The zooxanthellae help corals grow faster by being supplied with energy through photosynthesis. The coral tissues are not intrinsically colored the way we see them in the coral reefs but are instead clear; the zooxanthellae are what give the corals reefs their color. Without the zooxanthellae, the coral reefs lose the vibrant colors that appeal to tourists. The depletion of zooxanthellae that reside in the coral polyp tissues is called coral reef bleaching. The most prominent effect of climate change on coral reefs is coral bleaching.

‡ Coral reef bleaching is caused by the combination effect of increased temperatures, higher UV radiation, sedementation, reduced lighting levels and salinity changes (AU). Although it is not the only cause of coral reef bleaching, global warming is considered the primary effect. Because coral reefs can only survive within a very strict temperature bracket, the slightest bit of temperature change can disrupt the delicate balance of the coral reef ecosystem. When temperatures deviate too much, the algae become disconnected from the cnidarian host cells because they lose their cell adhesive function (Tchernov 2004). Usually a deviation of 1-2 degrees for 5-10 weeks is enough to cause bleaching (Buchheim 1998). The result is that the corals are left colorless and without ability to produce energy. If the corals loose their zooxanthellae for too long, the coral host will die in due course. Without the zooxanthellae to photosynthesize, the corals have no way to produce energy. When bleaching occurs, one of two things happens, either the quantity of zooxanthellae decreases or each of the zooxanthella loses its pigment. Usually when coral reefs bleach, they lose about 60-90% of their zooxanthellae and the remaining zooxanthella lose about 50-80% of their pigment (Buchheim 1998).

Cases of Coral Bleaching
Over 60 cases of coral bleaching have been found in the world since the 1980s, they have been spotted in French Polynesia, the Caribbean, Palau, Australia, and the eastern Pacific. Most of the reported bleaching usually happens during the summer or at the end of an extended period of warm temperatures (Buchheim 1998). El Niño is the oscillations in the ocean and atmosphere systems in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Some years El Niño is more severe than in other years. At its severest, temperatures can rise up to 7 to 8°C. Such a high rise in temperature devastated the reefs in the east Pacific. 95% of the coral reefs in Galapagos Island were destroyed due to this wave of climate extremity. El Niño events are found to occur every 7 to 8 years, research indicates that they now occur much more frequently at anywhere from every 3 to 5 years. This increase in frequency is attributable to climate change. Global warming is the cause of an increasing number of cases of coral bleaching all over the world. It is important to understand that the actions taken on one side of the planet can have devastating consequences on the ecosystems located on the other side of the planet.

Another significant impact humans have had on the coral reef ecosystems in the Great Barrier Reef is its pollution problem. There are numerous ways humans have added harmful pollutants into our oceans that can cause serious damage to the fragile ecosystems of the coral reefs. Deforestation, although not directly involved in coral reef destruction, has many indirect effects that cause many issues. Sediment runoff will bring with it many natural and toxic components that can cause harm to the coral ecosystems. There is also sedimentation buildup that occurs at the mouth of the rivers that lead into the oceans. (Coral Reefs, 2004) Another major pollutant is runoff from mining and farming where the minerals get into rivers that flow into the ocean. Farming has specific negative effects with this type of pollution because of the nutrient runoff from the fertilizers used. These fertilizers add nitrogen and phosphorous into the oceanic ecosystem. These nutrients cause massive algae growth that leads to depletion in oxygen available for other creatures and decreasing the biodiversity in those affected areas. (Bell RPF, 1992) It also leads to algae blooms that take over sections of coral, blocking the sunlight and hurting its ability to survive. The coral reefs also have a hard time surviving through human pollution by petroleum leaks and other chemicals that get dumped into the oceans because of its toxicity the environment. Overall human pollution has been a major source for issues involving the Great Barrier Reefs and its struggle to survive in today¶s harsh conditions.

Pollution: Fertilizers and pesticides
Pollution has made significant impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and its struggle for survival. Human based pollution that has caused such harm to our reefs needs to be stopped or reduced significantly if we wish to save this fragile ecosystem. Certain model estimates indicate that 22% of the world¶s coral reefs are threatened by land-based pollution. (Puglise 2007) Main-land based pollution stressing the coral reef ecosystems are chemical and nutrient based. This type of pollution includes fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, human derived sewage, and large amounts of sedimentation from costal land development. These pollutants have many serious direct impacts on our coral reef¶s ecosystem such as altering the species composition by fauna shifting from phototrophic to heterotrophic. Largely impart to the corals inability to obtain necessary energy from light because of the increased turbidity of the water due to the pollution process. There is very high nutrient enrichment effecting the Great Barrier Reefs such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Other pollutants also have a great effect on the coral such as heavy metals.

It is noted that 80% of the land adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef is farmland that supports agricultural production, intensive cropping of sugar cane, and major beef cattle grazing. (GBR, 2007) These types of agriculture and cattle production pose large threats to the Great Barrier Reef close by. Fertilizers are highly used with agriculture and contain high amounts of phosphorous and nitrates. Farmers use nitrogen fertilizers frequently because it is an essential nutrient for crop and animal production, both found on the area near the coral reefs. If the farmers over feed or fertilize with the N fertilizers, it can be lost to ground water and surface water. (Nitrogen Management, 2007) The same is true for the macronutrient fertilizers used such as NPK. This is a fertilizer made up of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which is also used by numerous farmers on their crops. The same issue of runoff occurs if farmers apply too much. Overall when these fertilizers and the nutrients used, the runoff and leaching that occurs posses a large threat to the coral ecosystem.

‡ It is noted that 80% of the land adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef is farmland that supports agricultural production, intensive cropping of sugar cane, and major beef cattle grazing. (GBR, 2007) These types of agriculture and cattle production pose large threats to the Great Barrier Reef close by. Fertilizers are highly used with agriculture and contain high amounts of phosphorous and nitrates. Farmers use nitrogen fertilizers frequently because it is an essential nutrient for crop and animal production, both found on the area near the coral reefs. If the farmers over feed or fertilize with the N fertilizers, it can be lost to ground water and surface water. (Nitrogen Management, 2007) The same is true for the macronutrient fertilizers used such as NPK. This is a fertilizer made up of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which is also used by numerous farmers on their crops. The same issue of runoff occurs if farmers apply too much. Overall when these fertilizers and the nutrients used, the runoff and leaching that occurs posses a large threat to the coral ecosystem.

Pesticides are another agricultural practice that damages the health of coral reefs. Farmers to kill off specific types of insects and weeds that may be harming their crops specifically use insecticides and herbicides. These pesticides are made up of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxins which are not only dangerous to humans, but other aquatic and plant species. (Pesticide, 2007) The pesticides are found in the runoff that occurs with erosion of farm soil, taking the chemicals downstream and into the coral ecosystems off the coast. Both of these farming practices of pesticide and fertilizers have many negative impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and its diverse ecosystem.

Sedimentation

Sedimentation is another large impact on the Great Barrier Reefs that harms its fragile ecosystem. The sediments that flow out from rivers and large amounts of erosion carry with it many of the pollutants and fertilizers from the farms inland from the reefs. There are various levels of sedimentation and how it can affect the coral communities when run-off occurs. In this table it shows the three degrees of impact and how it can affect the health of the coral ecosystem.

Overfishing
Reefs are suffering directly and indirectly from the increasing pressure of mans' resource exploitation (Reef Education Network). Overfishing is one driving pressure that has had devastating impacts on coral reefs. Aggressive fishing methods have hurt coral reefs sometimes beyond repair. However, over-fishing in general is also a damaging problem to many coral reefs around the world. Specifically to the Great Barrier Reef, overfishing has caused a shift in the reef ecosystem. Overfishing of certain species near coral reefs can easily affect the reef's ecological balance and biodiversity (Reef Education Network).

Importance of Fish and Coral Reefs
The biodiversity of reefs supports the aquarium and aquaculture industries, biomedical industry and other commercial industries. The management of coral reef fishers falls across several groups, including NOAA through the regional fishery management councils, and state, territory commonwealth and local agencies. Because over-fishing has become a huge problem in the Great Barrier Reefs, the Australian government has had to make plans in order to help future projections. Overfishing of important herbivores has only been increasing over the past few decades. Direct overexploitation of different fishes and invertebrates by recreational, subsistence, and commercial fisheries has resulted in the rapid decline in populations. The NOAA has proof that overfishing effects fish size, abundance, species composition and genotypic diversity. Also, overexploitation of marine organisms contributes to the degradation of coral reef ecosystems as a whole. (Puglise, K.A)

Domino Effect and Food Chain
A domino effect comes into play when overfishing occurs in or around a coral reef. These relationships among other species are crucial to the survival of coral reefs. The food chain goes as follows: producers, which are photosynthetic organisms and have a key role in the reef system because they are not only the base of the food chain but all of the energy for the system comes from them (The Coral Reef Food Chain). Also, these producers are key to reef-building corals (The Coral Reef Food Chain). The reef-building corals have a relationship with the zooxanthellae, plant-like organisms that photosynthesis for reefs (The Coral Reef Food Chain). Then these producers are eaten by the consumers, which are either herbivores or carnivores (The Coral Reef Food Chain). It is important to notice that for coral reefs specifically some carnivores eat and keep in check the coral reefs themselves. ³Fishing for a particular species obviously affects that species directly, but it also affects the animals and/or plants in both directions along the food chain - the predators and the prey of the fish will both be affected, and changes to them will also affect their predators and prey, and so on´ (The Coral Reef Food Chain). A specific example includes the grouper fish, a very popular fish to eat, can be found in the Great Barrier Reef (Coral Reefs). The overfishing of grouper in some cases has led to an increase of damselfish, which is a major food supply for the Grouper fish. Damselfish, help create pockets in corals that are important for coral reef life (Coral Reefs). That's where the algae the damselfish feed upon grow (Coral Reefs). If the damselfish population isn¶t controlled by natural predation, these algae can take over a reef, eventually killing it (Coral Reefs). Overfishing of other herbivorous fishes can also lead to high levels of algal growth in different cases.

Impacts of Overfishing
Destructive fishing techniques can have direct physical impacts on reef environments or create a deceit of certain species in the ecosystem. Unauthorized fishing occurs in areas that are not supposed to be fished causing even further destruction to coral reefs (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority). ³Recreational fishing is also an important activity with about 56,000 privately registered boats fishing in the Great Barrier Reef region´ (Sustainable Fishing). ³The vulnerability of coral-reef species is partly because of their life-history adaptations to uncertainty in survival of recruits and juveniles in diverse communities where predation and competition are intense. With low rates of survival of recruits, multiple attempts at reproduction are favored through longevity and large size. These traits lead to low rates of population turnover and special vulnerability to overfishing. ecosystem overfishing occurs when overfishing affects multispecies assemblage composition, food-web dynamics, or ecosystem function´ (Birkeland, Charles). Overfishing can devastate the marine ecology of the Great Barrier Reef because of the specific needs of the coral reef. Since certain amounts of nutrients, oxygen and salt content the fishes in the coral reef ecosystem help maintain the balance needed by the corals, with out these fishes the coral reef will collapse (Coral Reef). The Great Barrieer Reef Park has several methods to manage specific zones of fishing, the created the Australian Commonwealth law to protect critical areas. In 2003, 24% of coral reef habitats were included in ³no-fishing zones´ which is about 4% of the total park area (Sustainable Fishing). There are many necessary steps needed to help stop overfishing including, designing effective conservation programs, determining the impact of management actions, understanding the drivers of overfishing, and deciding how are made to exceed sustainable limitations on fishers (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority).

Conclusion
‡ Without the coral reefs, the balance of the entire oceanic ecosystem will be thrown off. It will change our relationship with the resources in the ocean. Just as our actions here, thousands of miles away, can cause harm to the coral reefs all the way in Australia, what happens to the corals over there can impact us as well.

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