Thank you so much for writing to me. It is really nice of you to have taken the time.
No Lizzy, the Great Barrier Reef is not going to die, not so long as there are enough people who love the reef and will fight to save it. The Great Barrier Reef will live as long as enough generosity and devotion exist in the world to do what is needed.
But you are brave to ask the question. Australia without the Great Barrier Reef is a horrible thought. How dreary would be the world if there were no Great Barrier Reef!
And I need to tell you the truth. The Great Barrier Reef is very, very sick. You probably have heard about “global warming”. What it means is that we are making the world hotter by burning up coal, oil and gas; cutting down forests, and farming in a way that hurts the environment. We can solve all these problems if we try hard enough – and we definitely need to sort them out, as quickly as we possibly can.
We have already warmed up the sea enough to make the Great Barrier Reef sick with “coral bleaching”. Maybe you have heard of this? It means that the lovely, brightly coloured coral on the reef gets too hot, then turns white and can die. Lots of corals on the reef have already died in this way. It is very, very sad.
But the Great Barrier Reef wants to live! Every single creature on the Great Barrier Reef, from the biggest whale to the tiniest shrimp, is doing its best to stay alive and have babies. And our job is to help them – all those corals and fish and clams and sharks – every last one of them. We must help them all, so that more corals grow again and the Great Barrier Reef can slowly get better.
Have you ever been snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef? Or watched one of those amazing TV shows that shows you what life is like underwater on the reef? Just think of every little creature that you saw. They all want to live! They all want their home to be saved! And so do all the families of people who live near the Great Barrier Reef and depend on it for their lives almost as much as the fish.
I have two daughters, both of whom are a bit younger than you are. They trick me sometimes – like when they hide their dirty socks in my bag as a joke! But I love them very dearly indeed. And when you love someone, you will do anything to make sure that they are safe and well. I think almost everyone in Australia loves our Great Barrier Reef. That’s why I think we must do everything we can to help it.
Do you want to know how we can save the life of the Great Barrier Reef? Let me tell you. We need to stop digging coal, oil and gas out of the ground as quickly as we can. And we need to stop cutting down forests. It is mostly the greed of a few powerful people that is causing these things to happen. So everyone who loves the reef needs to work together as a team to stand up to them. Think about how much faster you can get things done in a team, like when you pick up litter at your school or pack up after play time. Imagine how long it would take if you had to do it all by yourself? When people help each other, we can do almost anything!
I’m so sorry that our Great Barrier Reef is really sick. We grown-ups haven’t always done the best job of looking after the world, which is strange when you think about it, because we all love our children so much.
No Lizzy, the Great Barrier Reef is not going to die, not if we fight for it with all our love and strength. It will very likely get even sicker first, but then slowly but surely, our Great Barrier Reef will recover and get better. A famous scientist called Terry Hughes, who knows as much about the Great Barrier Reef as anybody, says that it might take a long time and the reef will not be exactly the same as it was in the past. But if we are quick and use all our energy to doing the right things now, then one day the animals will come back and the coral will bloom once more.
Then our Great Barrier Reef will live, and live forever. And a thousand years from now, even 10 times 10,000 years from now, children like you, Lizzy, will be able to swim among the jewelled fish, through the coral gardens of our beautiful reef, with love and wonder swelling in their tender hearts, just as they should.
I’m sorry I haven’t answered all of your questions – there were lots of them! Please thank Mrs Smith for encouraging you to write to me. Teachers do a very important job.
Please also give my very best wishes to all the kids in your class and to your family for a safe and happy summer holidays.
Thank you again for your letter.
With my warmest regards,
• David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific