Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on Earth, spanning about the same area as Germany or Malaysia. But similar to how a forest is more than just trees, corals are only part of what makes the Great Barrier Reef so great.
The ecosystem is teeming with wildlife, including more than 100 jellyfish species, 3,000 kinds of mollusks, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 215 types of birds and more than 1,600 different fish — representing about 10 percent of the planet's known fish species. Six varieties of sea turtles also come to the reefs to breed.
One of those turtles recently filmed a video, embedded above, to help humans see things from its point of view. This wasn't the turtle's idea, of course; it was outfitted with a GoPro camera by WWF Australia, which wanted to "better understand the post-release behaviour of tagged green turtles." The group also hopes the video will serve a broader goal: drawing global attention to trouble in this aquatic paradise.
The Great Barrier Reef was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, but that hasn't been enough to protect it from a barrage of man-made threats. Climate change now endangers its reefs via coral bleaching and ocean acidification, a problem compounded by water pollution, ship traffic and coastal development.
In 2014, UNESCO threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger." Along with other ecological woes, this was spurred by an Australian plan to dump dredged sediment from a port-expansion project near the reef. An "in danger" listing is meant to raise awareness and possibly funds to protect a site, although if the danger is not addressed, it could be a precursor to losing World Heritage status altogether.
The Australian government balked at this warning, pledging new funds for pollution control and reef monitoring as well as passing restrictions on new ports. And in a decision issued July 1, 2015, UNESCO repeated its concerns about the reef's health but stopped short of listing it as in danger. Australia now has until 2016 to prove its rescue plan is working, and until 2019 to show that it has halted the reef's decline. Failure to do so could lead to an "in danger" listing in 2020.
"Australia is on probation," WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman says in a statement, "and the real work to turn around the decline of the reef starts now."
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- Watch 150 baby sea turtles scramble into the ocean