Tourists Are Flocking to the Great Barrier Reef Because It’s Dying
Like Venice and The Galapagos Islands, Australia is finding itself at the forefront of the hospitality industry’s most tragic sector: last-chance tourism.
The Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst coral bleaching on record this year, with one scientific study estimating up to 93 percent of the reef shows signs of bleaching, largely due to climate change.
Earlier this summer, the Australian government successfully suppressed information about the unhealthy state of the reef, worried that it would drive away tourism, a $5.2 billion industry. Now, a survey in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism found that nearly 70 percent of visitors to the Great Barrier Reef list the desire “to see the reef before it’s gone” as the primary reason for their journey to the 3,200km World Heritage-listed site off the coast of Queensland.
More than four million people travel to the Great Barrier Reef each year, and the weak Aussie dollar has resulted in record numbers of Australians hitting the marine park this year, with domestic visitors up by 33.5 percent since last March.
The biggest threat remains climate change and, in turn, coral bleaching. Bleaching usually occurs when coral becomes stressed by rising water temperatures or pollution, causing it to expel the living algae it houses and turn a stark white. Coral can survive a bleaching event, but the longer it remains bleached and the higher the intensity of the event make death increasingly likely. The coral death toll in the Great Barrier Reef’s most-affected northern and central sections is currently estimated at 35-percent