One of the world's greatest and most endangered marine attractions has been hit by another ecological disaster.
Back in August, a Carnival cruise ship accidentally dumped nearly 2,000 gallons of food waste into a part of the Pacific that's occupied by the Great Barrier Reef. The incident is only now being made public after an investigation was conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
However, elected government officials and other media reports in Australia state the spill was more than three times larger, roughly 7,000 gallons, which is equivalent to 100 full bathtubs. The ship reported that the spill happened Aug. 26th, but wasn't relayed to authorities until two days later. Authorities detained the ship and fined the company $1.5 million once the vessel docked in Sydney.
Despite being declared a World Heritage site and supposedly under protection from polluters, the Great Barrier Reef has been subject to several environmental hazards with nearly a third of its corals already dead. Aside from damage created by humans, climate change has bleached nearly all of the rest of the reef's corals. One recent report cited that of the two-thirds of the corals that are still surviving, half of them are dying.
The reef's corals are critical to the marine ecosystem, as it provides shelter and food for species trying to evade other aquatic animals of prey. The reef also features more than 400 different types of coral and is a sanctuary to roughly 1,500 different species of marine life. Its existence extends beyond the ocean in that it can prevent as much as 95 percent of erosion on Australia's coastlines.
Besides environmental damage, the steady decline of the Great Barrier Reef — recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and Australia's third most popular tourist destination — could spawn negative economic consequences. Roughly 64,000 jobs depend on the existence of the reef with a tourism industry worth $6.4 million at peril, should the attraction die off.
That fate is quite possible barring any reversal of the recent climate trend predicted to cause an average global temperature increase of 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Even an increase of half that projection is likely to kill up to 90 percent of corals on the planet.