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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Preserving the Great Barrier Reef

headshot_mcStudents, tourists need to respect their host countries

There’s a saying that I heard once that said “beauty is never tarnished.” Well, I hate to break it to whoever said that, but I doubt that they have ever lived in a place that has seen its natural beauty destroyed at an alarming rate. To be fair, I’m also just as sure that whoever coined that expression was also talking about people, and not travel destinations like the Great Barrier Reef.

Sure, travel is great. Being able to see unique sights unavailable to you in your home country, trying a new cuisine (even if it’s a different McDonald’s menu) and creating memories that last a lifetime are all great reasons to get out of town when it’s possible. But at the same time, what’s the real cost of these worldly pleasures? I mean beyond the costs of airfare, food and finding a place to sleep.

I recently traveled to Cairns, Australia and went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. And while I may not have been in the ocean for too long (salt water irks me and I can’t see well without glasses) I did notice something that many people may or may not be aware of currently: the reef is dying.

I’d heard this statement before. It was probably in high school when I was taking AP Biology that I heard the ominous warning that the reef was in danger of not being a sight that my grandchildren would be able to see. Unfortunately, the warning was clearly ignored.

Only six years later, as a fourth-year in college, the reef looked miserable. The coral was bleached, chipped and the some of the creatures looked about as miserable as the Tank Gang from Finding Nemo looked when Darla tapped menacingly on the glass.

How can such rapid change occur to something which has stood for so long on this planet? People. People did this with all the travel the area faces. The ocean is filled with fumes from people flying to Cairns, pollution from around the world and sunscreen from everyone trying not to get skin cancer in this place where the UV index remains at a steady 10 for all daylight hours. And the reef hurts when people get in the water and accidentally chip the coral.

But even if all the ships and cruises go out to the ocean with the best intentions, as many of them do, and do everything in their power to try and give the reef a fighting chance, the sad fact is that the reef is still in danger. People love traveling. People love being able to say they did something great in a foreign country that they would be unable to do anywhere else.

And what better way to say this than taking physical proof of your presence in somewhere as great as the Great Barrier Reef? People take coral from the reef. But is showing off your adventures really worth taking part of a UNESCO heritage site? Isn’t it a lot of effort to try and get it past security knowing that if it’s found out, you are committing a federal crime? But it happens. It’s as if some crazy impulse exists to destroy the beauty of place you came to visit in the first place. It doesn’t make sense.

How far will people go to prove that they have gone to a world-renowned location? Will the monetary cost of travel really be worth it if there isn’t even anything to see anymore because it’s either been destroyed by climate change and the increasing impact of human presence?

To travel responsibly, especially for students abroad, is to follow a better saying I picked up as a Boy Scout: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”


Written by: Michael Clogston  — mlclogston@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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