An undated handout photo received from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on April 19, 2018, shows a mass bleaching event of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
An undated handout photo received from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on April 19, 2018 shows a mass bleaching event of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

SYDNEY - Australia’s national science agency says years of concern about the health of the Great Barrier Reef have created a type of 'grief' among tourists.  A survey of thousands of visitors to the reef has found they consider the world’s largest coral system to be less beautiful now, and worry about its decline.  The study is published in the journal, Nature Climate Change. 

The Great Barrier Reef is nature’s gift to Australia, but it is in trouble because of climate change and pollution.

“But now the largest living structure on the planet is becoming the largest dying structure.  Vast amounts of coral is being killed off by rising ocean temperatures.”

A new study says that media coverage of damage to the reef is causing some tourists to start mourning its loss.  But researchers want to move beyond the despair and focus instead on positive changes that can help the world’s largest coral system from further decline.  

More than 4,500 visitors were surveyed by Australia’s main science agency and other universities in the state of Queensland.

Matt Curnock is from the CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

“One of the first questions we ask are what are the first words that come to mind when you think of the Great Barrier Reef, and some of the emotions we identified included sadness, anger, disgust and fear.  And these are generally associated with grief" said Curnock.

Tourism bodies are trying to dispel the view that Australia’s greatest natural treasure, is dead, or in terminal decline.

Dean Miller, from Great Barrier Reef Legacy, an advocacy group, says it is very much open for business. 

“There is a huge misconception out there that the Great Barrier Reef is dead" said Miller. "It is absolutely not dead.  You have got to look at an economic standpoint and go, okay, it is worth AUD$56bn to the economy.  That is fantastic.  We need to continue that attraction.”

But Kelly O'Shannessy, the head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, says there needs to be an honest debate about the declining  health of the reef.

“It has bleached.  Thirty percent of the reef corals have died after the 2016 mass bleaching and more again in 2017," said Shannessy. "So we cannot sugar-coat these things, but we should be talking about in equal weight the solutions.”

The Great Barrier Reef is about the size of Japan.  It is breathtaking, and home to array of marine creatures, including 600 types of coral, 500 varieties of worms and more than 100 species of jellyfish.

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