David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Britain’s relationship with the EU, to name but a few: 2016 has been a year full of painful losses thus far, so the news of the ‘death’ of the Great Barrier Reef that emerged recently seemed like just another name on the sad list. Outside Magazine published an obituary for the world’s biggest living organism, mourning the loss of it after 25 million years. The report spread like wildfire, making its way onto many blogs and news outlets, and was shared countless times on social media, with the inclusion of countless sad face and fish emojis, to truly demonstrate the extent of the grief felt.
However, it has since been realised that the obituary appears to be Outside’s attempt at thought-provoking satire, as scientists – actual ones, rather than the food and environment writer of the viral piece – have confirmed that the Great Barrier Reef is indeed dying but not dead, for now at least. For many years, the Reef has been in an extremely concerning state, with 93% of it being affected by bleaching, to the point that almost a quarter of it has died from such damage. Coral bleaching is when changes in conditions, currently caused by global warming, causes the coral to expel the algae that live in their tissues, resulting in the coral losing its vibrant colour and eventually dying. Not only does this mean the death of the Reef itself, but the ultimate loss of it would be disastrous for the hundreds of species of fish that live among it. Yes, the Reef is a beautiful thing to look at, photograph, and scuba dive among, but more importantly, its death stretches beyond that.
Perhaps then, Outside was on the right lines with its ‘obituary’. Some think that the hoax will inspire action and more thought for the impressive feat of nature, as it offers a glimpse into what could be. However, scientists seem to disagree with this interpretation, due to the message of doom and lack of hope that the original article and subsequent articles convey. Surely by telling people it is too late, they will not be moved to action but instead to dismay? Surely this approach dismisses the important and intense efforts that many people are putting into saving the Great Barrier Reef? While the jury is out about whether or not it is too late to save it, considerable work is being put into attempting to, and organisations such as the ARC Centre at the University of Queensland and the Australian government believe that it can be done.
The hoax is a perfect example of humans being as susceptible to bait as the fish that inhabit the Reef’s corals, but more than that, we should take from this the original message of the need, and desperation, to save the Great Barrier Reef. With estimations saying that it could be gone for good within 40 years, it could very easily be within our lifetimes that the obituaries, RIP hashtags, and broken heart emojis could be flooding our timelines for real if we do not work together to save it.