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Here's what you can do to help save the Great Barrier Reef

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When I told friends and family of my plans to travel Australia, one of the first things mentioned was how I absolutely must get to the Great Barrier Reef. They urged me to hurry up and see it while it was still alive, with its desperately sad decline the unspoken implication.

Climate change is here, and it’s serious: 11 of the 12 hottest years ever have been since 2000, and 90% of this excess heat is trapped within greenhouse gases and stored in the oceans, putting the Reef under serious strain. As a result of human waste and negligence, around 80,000 tonnes of pollutant nitrogen enter the Great Barrier Reef lagoon each year, devastating its thriving marine life. Over 50% of corals have been lost since the 1980s, with 29% of corals being killed from bleaching in 2016 alone.  

It seemed that everyone knew it was in danger, and recognised the urgency of visiting now - but without giving a thought to how it could be saved. I didn’t consider how I could help either - I just hoped that there were some really important people out there who were already doing everything they could.

Luckily, there is a programme that can help us out. Andy Ridley, the founder of Earth Hour, has launched an innovative scheme that’s designed to provide us with real actions that we can carry out in order to make a significant difference.

Andy says that he strives to “build a movement” that can fight the very serious threat that is posed on the Reef, and to reverse the effects of coral bleaching, which is what causes the coral to lose its famous vibrancy and colour.

“We have to do everything we possibly can to try and deal with the full problem, which is climate change,” Andy says, and although he admits that this will be “quite an endeavour as the challenges to the Reef are enormous”, he believes that we cannot simply accept the loss of one of the greatest natural icons on the planet.

The good news is that we can get involved in a simple ways. There’s no need to spend any money, spend hours campaigning or undertaking huge sustainability projects. Your first step is check out the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef’s website, and become a Citizen.

You can then choose to commit to various actions, which are so small and simple that you’ll wonder why you never did them before. They are as effortless as taking your own bag to Tesco, taking a reusable water bottle to uni or stopping yourself from making just a bit too much dinner (that you know you probably won’t finish).

It may sound like a tall order, with around 236,000 tonnes of micro plastic entering our oceans every year and with 93% of the material that we throw away ending up in landfill and in places like the Reef, but it’s the valiant acts of a small army that can provoke real change. All of these simple pledges add up to a global movement and a colossal difference, reducing the waste that has a devastating impact on our ecosystem.

On CitizensGBR.org, you can create your own profile to track your actions and see the lifeline that you and millions of others are giving back to the Reef. You can learn more about the cause, what it is you are saving, and about the champions who are dedicating their lives to doing everything they can to protect it. You can even see the impact you are making in specific measurements, as the site can tell you how much energy you are distributing.

If you’re feeling generous you could even sponsor a COTS diver. These marine experts relieve a huge pressure on the Reef’s corals, controlling and removing the Crown of Thorn Starfish that feed on and kill the live tissue of coral.

One of the greatest icons of the Reefs its colourful vibrancy, and Andy and co have created a way for you to be the saviour of one of the millions of beautiful colours that make up the Reef. In a painting-by-numbers style, you can select any colour in the world, claim it as your own, and work towards saving your own very special colour on the Reef. You can also become a Citizen of the Reef in your area, and share your citizenship on social media, encouraging everyone to do their bit.

The responsibility to save this natural icon lies on all of us. No matter what nationality, age or occupation, we can all unite to ensure that our grandchildren will one day be able to share the breathtaking charms of the Reef. Andy says that he worries “a lot when people say that we’ll leave it to the next generation... whatever age we are, we’re going to have to change this.” Although the UK may seem a world away from Northern Queensland, the problem is nonetheless on our doorstep.

Andy believes that “if we respond now with action not apathy, there’s hope.” But it seems that it’s not only our love of convenience food and reusable straws that’s the problem. The media plays a great role in the stories surrounding the Reef, and is a culprit in the apathy that seemingly surrounds the Reef’s future. Andy points out that we can get caught up in the stories that have been tailored towards us whilst ignoring the real issues: “You get into a bubble on your own social media, so I’d encourage anybody and everyone to read up about it, because it’s serious.”

He says that to “understand what’s really at stake and what we can do about it”, we need to fight inaccurate headlines. The media prepares us for failure: we hear that the Reef is dying, and assume that there is nothing that we can do - except frantically urge everyone to soak up the remnants of the one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders whilst they still can.

Andy stresses that it is “the headlines... the apathy that does the damage”, and he’s passionately determined to change the narrative: “It’s really important that the nuance of the story gets across... we’re under no illusion that the risks on the reef are massive, but it’s not over yet. We can’t give up.”

Find out more about Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef at sign up as a Citizen at https://citizensgbr.org/

This article first appeared in The National Student's Easter 2018 print issue. See the full magazine here

Photo credit: Tourism and Events Queensland 

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