A First Time for Everything

For many divers, the Great Barrier Reef is a pilgrimage they make after years spent exploring the ocean. For Chantel, it’s where she dove for the first time, and it’s an experience she will never forget.

You always remember your first time.

Whoa, hang on a second, I didn’t mean it like that. Get your head out of the gutter.

It’s just that new experiences in life, no matter the type, are always memorable. My first beer when I turned 21 (a porter) was at Jack of the Wood, a great bar in Asheville, NC. I vividly remember being rolled into the operating room as a six-year-old for my first time having surgery (it’s actually the earliest memory I have in life). And I know that I’ll never forget that first moment I saw Chantel in her wedding dress.

My wife and I have enjoyed some amazing moments in life, and I got to have a front-row seat for one of her coolest firsts: scuba diving.

We were on our honeymoon in Australia, and we had planned a remarkable itinerary that included Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Daintree Rainforest, Cairns and Uluru. We wanted a taste of everything the country had to offer, and this trip gave us city, mountains, rainforest, reef and desert. We are already dreaming of re-doing that trip someday, but with our children in tow.

While in Cairns, we booked a one-day cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. Chantel had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, and this cruise offered that opportunity. For many divers, the Great Barrier Reef is a pilgrimage they make after years spent exploring the ocean. For Chantel, it’s where she dove for the first time, and it’s an experience she will never forget.

Unfortunately though, the reef is in a bit of trouble.

The problem is coral bleaching, which is when corals expel the algae contained inside. Those algae provide corals with their brilliant colors and roughly 90% of their energy sources, so corals turn white and begin to starve when the algae are expelled. Corals don’t WANT to do this, but it turns out that when the water gets too warm (or when other stresses are introduced), they can’t keep their control on the algae.

Corals don’t die immediately when they bleach, but they do eventually if they persist in a bleached state for too long. When that begins happening, the corals’ local ecosystems start to lose their “backbone.” As a result, higher food chain species, such as fish, are then threatened. Taken to the extreme, significant coral bleaching can cause the total collapse of ecosystems.

As global temperatures continue rising, it’s not just the air around us that will warm. The oceans will as well, amplifying the threat of widespread bleaching. In the end, climate change could kill off the vast majority of our reefs around the globe.

The most significant aspect of such a tragedy would be the impact on humanity’s food systems.

Billions of people rely upon fish for their primary source of protein, and the loss of coral reefs would mean the loss of fertile fishing areas for many of those people.

But we would lose something else too – the aesthetic majesty of our reefs. Their beauty, whether in Australia, Belize or another colorful corner of this planet, is undeniable. And I for one would be saddened if generations of people yet to come were to miss out. I saw too much joy on my wife’s face when she emerged from the water on that amazing first dive. It’s an experience worth protecting.
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