To my dear son,
It’s 2017 and I’m getting ready for my next coral reef research trip. I’ve been lucky to work on coral reefs around the world over the last 20 years. I can’t wait until you’re old enough to come with me and be my dive buddy. You are only three now and you have to be ten years old and a good swimmer before you can SCUBA dive with me.
One of the things I’ll be following up with on this research trip is to see where, and how, the coral reefs have recovered from last year’s unusually hot seawater temperatures. Sadly, it already looks like this year will be another hot year and the corals, still sick from last year, are already struggling. The usually colourful corals turn white when they are too hot, and if the water doesn’t cool down fast enough they die. Last year most of the world’s reefs turned white at some point, but because it was underwater you and your friends didn’t see.
I have to admit I’m wondering where I will take you for your first dive. I want it to be a healthy reef with AMAZING underwater life, big fish, turtles, manta rays and even a friendly shark or two.
So, where will I take you diving, son? The answer to that is I just don’t know what reefs will be left. I hope I will be able to take you diving in all the incredible places I have visited. I know they can recover.
Corals can recover but they need time and good water quality. Something we don’t seem to be giving them. Without the coral the reef fish have no-where to live. Without the fish the sea birds and yes, humans, go hungry in many places around the world. Without the reefs our shorelines won’t be protected during storms, cyclones and hurricanes. Without the reefs we’d lose so much more.
So what am I doing to help this? We are reducing our carbon footprint by buying local produce (yes, that’s why you get to go to the local farmers markets with me), recycling, reusing and being energy smart. I wonder why burn expensive, polluting fossil fuel when living in Australia we have unlimited, free solar power? It seems like a no brainer to me. I’m also so lucky to teach some great students in my classes where they can learn, discuss and come up with ideas and solutions to help reduce greenhouse gases. Through speaking, I get to talk to people, like your grandma and grandad who want to help, but don’t know how.
I think the most important thing I can do is tell people what is happening, and let them know it’s not hopeless. The most important actions and steps against greenhouse gases are taken by everyday people like you and me TODAY and tomorrow. Once people think and speak out the world follows.
We know what is right for you son, and we’re trying to do it.
April 19, 2017
Dr. Jennie Mallela is an Environmental and Coral Reef Specialist at the Australian National University College of Medicine, Biology and Environment.