The Great Barrier Reef is in the Coral Sea, off the north-east coast of Australia. It is one of the most beautiful, natural gifts of the world and is the only living thing which can be seen from space. It includes over three thousand individual reef systems and coral cays and over four hundred different types of coral which is dated back to around twenty million years ago.
Nature has provided a home to over fifteen hundred species of tropical fish, twenty types of reptiles, two hundred species of birds and many smaller animals. It is a breeding ground for Humpback Whales and is also home to a few endangered species such as the Green Sea Turtle and the Dugong. As a result of its inhabitants and the fact that it is one of the world’s greatest natural treasures, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization listed the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site in 1981.
The reef is indescribably beautiful above and below the water and has attracted increased numbers of people to the north-east coast of Queensland. This migration has resulted in increased social activity such as boating, fishing, diving and shipping through the Great Barrier Reef. This may have a negative impact on the coast in the future.
Commercial shipping is potentially a huge threat to our pristine oceanic environment. Ships regularly travel through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to other Queensland docks transporting a range of products which have potential to cause severe environmental damage. Products such as oil, garbage, chemicals, sewerage, toxic compounds, ore and coal could be fatal to a range of animals and plants if something went wrong with the ship. It is argued whether the necessity for transportation through this area simply for money is even worth the risk.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) states that the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef may fail because of the increased surge of ships through the area. The GBRMPA is required to produce a report every five years. The most recent report in 2007, showed nine thousand seven hundred voyages had been made through the marine park. Combine this number with a growing population, an increase in tourism and unquenchable human desire for money, it is inevitable that the number of shipments are going to increase.
Around Easter 2010, the Shen Neng 1 was traveling fifteen nautical miles outside of its shipping lane when it crashed into coral spilled oi onto the Great Barrier Reef. The vessel may have been taking an illegal short cut through a passage between reefs which fisherman say is used by at least one ship every day. About a year earlier on the 11th March 2009 the Pacific Adventurer leaked over two hundred and seventy tonnes of oil into Moreton Bay.
The question is ‘how many more environmental disasters will it take before something is done’? Are the fines imposed on these renegade shipping companies acting as a sufficient deterrent to illegal passage through the reef. It is absolutely imperative that proper protection laws be enforced to protect our naturally beautiful coastline if our future generations are to experience the pleasure of this immaculate marine environment we are fortunate enough to share today.