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Should Gen Y social entrepreneurs unite to save the Great Barrier Reef?

The world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef is considered Australia’s most remarkable natural gift. Australians have long taken pride in this World Heritage; and today, it’s in danger.

Scientists had already discovered an alarming destruction in the natural wonder due to industrialisation; but earlier this month, the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt decided against protecting our Reef, instead giving the green light on building what could become one of the world’s largest coal ports in the surrounds of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The port expansion was approved by the Abbott Liberal National government on the 11th of December.

What does this mean? The construction of this massive coal port will involve dredging 3 million cubic metres of seabed. Such development will lead to water pollution because proponents will be left to dump dredging spoil into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

To provide a better picture of the scale of this dredging, Alex White explains in The Guardian that, “if all of the spoil was put into dump trucks, there would be 150,000 of them lined up bumper to bumper from Brisbane to Melbourne.”

He adds, “This expansion is further proof that the Abbott government is hell-bent on turning Australia into a reckless charco-state that solely represents the interests of fossil fuel and coal companies.”

With a bleak future in sight, it might be time for members of the business sector and local communities alike to claim social responsibility over the Reef’s protection.

Don’t destroy the Reef

First, let’s recap on why the Great Barrier Reef is so precious. As among the most famous reefs in the world, it is considered the largest and the only reef that astronauts on the moon can view. This is not surprising given the fact that it has an area of 35 million hectares. The mere presence of the Reef prevents danger from huge tidal waves in the area.

Aside from its size, its age is also a reason to protect it. The Great Barrier Reef has been present even before the birth of the earliest humans. Scientists believe the Reef is more than 18 million years old. Ice Ages and other significant events in Earth’s geology affected its growth but still, the Great Barrier Reef was able to withstand them.

But the greatest reason to preserve the Reef is its biodiversity. Biodiversity encompasses all life forms and the interactions involved therein. The marine life in the area is not just significant to the country, but to the world as well.

Half of the world’s mangrove species can be found in the area. Six out of the seven marine turtle species are also present in the Reef. It also serves as the home for most number of dugongs (sea cows) in the world.

The Reef is not a continuous one. It’s comprised of more than 2900 individual coral reefs. There are 1400 species of such plus more than 200 fish species. Echinoderms such as sea urchins and starfishes are also abundant in the area comprising of 630 species. Mollusks are also prevalent with over 3000 species; and bird species in the area, including shorebirds and seabirds, are around 215. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef shelters 133 ray and shark species, 30 dolphin and whale species, and 17 sea snake species.

Aside from serving as their home, the Reef is also the source of food and other nutrients that are essential to the growth of these animals. When it ceases to provide such nutrients, some species may not be able to adapt; hence, their species may be endangered or worse, be extinct.

The possible extinction of some species is one of the greatest concerns being discussed at present from multiple angles. Some argue that if this happens, fishermen and others who depend on the Reef for income will be affected.

Others say researches for potential therapeutic and other advantages from such species may be disrupted, or may even prevent significant discoveries. If a seemingly insignificant sponge has certain chemicals that are beneficial, how much more would the thousands of bigger species? (While I’m not particularly thrilled about using animals for human benefit, if a particular creature secreted a fluid that cures cancer, I wouldn’t argue too much.).

The protection of biodiversity is not just for the benefit of the present generation. It’s a form of respect towards our ancestors who didn’t exploit the area, so that the present generation can enjoy it.

Because of its rich biodiversity and natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef attracts local and foreign tourists alike. Local businesses derive income from the Reef, and this destruction also poses a threat to them.

Some of this is why, in 1975, a strong advocacy in the preservation of the Reef paved the way for the passage of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The said law mandated the creation of a marine park authority that oversees the usage and preservation of the Reef.

It’s also in charge of the restriction of exploration, mining, and oil drilling in the area. Communities (especially in the area), businesses, environmental advocates, scientists, and other groups are also tasked to preserve the Great Barrier Reef for future generations.

But for reasons that are suspect at best, our Reef is about to be destroyed by our government very soon.

Calling upon social entrepreneurs

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If it’s true that the government’s decision to expand the coal port is for business reasons – to keep coal companies merry this holiday season and happy in the New Year – then it’s time Gen Y social entrepreneurs turn things around and use business for the good of the environment. After all, the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment won’t do it.

In recent years, we’ve seen the social enterprise movement blossom, with social startups being launched at an exponential rate every year. And it’s apparent that Gen Y are natural change-makers; they reject the status quo and they want to see justice in the world. It is no wonder that a large number social enterprises are founded by Gen Y.

For those who don’t understand the social enterprise concept, the Foundation for Young Australians defines it as “a business venture where social purpose is the principal driver and is achieved in full, or in part, through enterprise activity”. Rather than maximising private profit, they embrace the philosophy that ‘we can change the world by changing the way we do business’.

In the present economic climate, this might sound a little idealistic. However, over the past decade, there’s been growing recognition that social entrepreneurs are onto something. And they are. Even policymakers are turning to social enterprises for new ways of delivering public services; and consumers are being more conscious in their spending in pursuit of a better world.

In the face of declining philanthropy, social entrepreneurs may just be able to do something about our Reef. It’s not just Australia’s gem, but also a treasure in the world as proven by its World Heritage status. Destroying it does not make sense in any context.

Featured image: Great Barrier Reef. Source: Shutterstock.





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