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Australia, the magazine : Australia, the magazine
environmental action 34 the last four or ve years it's been recognised the major threat is climate change. e urgency of doing something has become even greater," he says. Schubert believes part of the challenge in saving the reef stems from the fact that most of the damage is out of sight, out of mind. "If there's a river that is drying up, or ice that is no longer freezing, you can see the impact. But if a reef is becoming less complex and less unique, you can't see that," he says. At over 2300 kilometres long, the reef contains around 1500 species of sh, 350 coral species, around 800 di erent types of echinoderms (like sea urchins and star sh) and myriad marine mammals, seabirds, and 5000 species of molluscs. Maintaining the status quo is a precarious business, with changes in water temperature, acidity levels, and species types all chipping away at the reef 's overall resilience. Coral bleaching is the most publicised of the reef 's concerns: as oceans get ho er the all-important relationship between the coral and the algae living on it (Zooxanthellae) deteriorates. e result is a stress response which star ves the coral of food and kills o the bright colours visitors come to see. Although 16 percent of the world's corals have been bleached to date, the Great Barrier Reef has been relatively fortunate so far. Despite three serious bleaching events in recent years it's still holding up, although experts agree this is down to three factors: its enormous size; good management by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA); and a healthy dose of luck. Rather than tempting fate on bleaching, the GBRMPA recently harnessed community members to step in. Last summer, their Bleachwatch program saw over 200 volunteers keeping an eye on corals, so bleaching problems would be detected early. While tourism operators, shermen and divers have volunteered with Bleachwatch to keep an eye on corals, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has found a way for its members' business experience (and funding) to make a di erence. e foundation recently commissioned research which shows the reef is worth a staggering AU$51.4 billion to Australia. It's a gure which serves various uses. "Businesses want to invest in something that will make a di erence, so we wanted to help them understand what a di erence investing in the reef could make," says Schubert. At this point investing in the reef o en means supporting vital scienti c work. Even before climate change loomed there was plenty to investigate, from issues of functioning, health and resilience through to issues of protection and management. Although scientists from across the globe are drawn here for research purposes, it's local bodies that are really busy on the reef. Groups like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, University of Queensland, James Cook University and the Australian Museum are just some of those making most use of the reef 's scienti c research zones and research stations, as they investigate every aspect of the reef from biodiversity of the sea oors through to the movements of dugongs. With Schubert at the helm, the Foundation aims to channel its funding (millions of dollars to date) towards what they believe are the most pressing threats. "Reefs need time to adapt to changes like warmer waters. If change was happening slowly corals up north would gradually migrate south when the temperatures became too hot, but at the rate of climate change there's no time for this adaptation. One project we're funding is looking if it's possible to speed up migration of coral to the south to help the reef adapt," says Schubert. While results from projects like this aren't expected overnight, researchers and the community are both clear that successfully keeping the reef healthy goes You are a custodian and are building something to leave your children. BANKER, GLOBAL CITIZEN Above: John Schubert. Opposite: A research scientist photographs corals and (far right) shark researchers at work . Brianne Makin/Newspix