All Things Sustainable

ecology, economy, community

The Edge

In about 1982 I visited the Whitsunday Islands and together with my sister-in-law took a trip to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. We travelled out over the sea for about an hour in a small plane eventually landing on the water near a pontoon anchored on the reef. We somehow (and somewhat nervously) slid along the wing of the plane to get onto the pontoon where we donned our snorkelling gear. The tide was low and the water was still falling quite quickly, we slipped gently into the water as the pilot admonished us to take care and to try and avoid treading on the coral because corals are living animals.

Corals are marine animals living in compact colonies of identical individual polyps. They mostly get their energy and nutrition from algae that live within the coral tissue

Corals are marine animals living in compact colonies of identical individual polyps. They mostly get their energy and nutrition from algae that live within the coral tissue

For a moment I stood waist deep in the water and looked around, there was no land in sight and the sheer immensity of the ocean was engraved on my senses. Then face down in the water we swam across to the edge of the reef. It was alive with fish, corals of all kinds were attached to the face of the reef that plunged down until the light no longer reached them and they vanished from sight. I felt as if I were a bird soaring on the updraft, floating above a magical mysterious landscape. I followed the edge of the reef for a short distance and then swam beyond that out into the void of the ocean where no sea floor was visible.
It was an amazing experience. Technically, when swimming, it should make no difference whether the water is three meters or three miles deep but it does. As I moved out over the deep ocean I really began to appreciate the fragility of life and the insecure foothold that allows a thriving ecosystem, incredibly fecund and abundant to fill a niche at the edge of the reef. I even had a touch of vertigo and swam back to a point where I could see the reef face beneath me.
I remember this experience with gratitude, it was pivotal in my thinking making me aware of the fragility and beauty of the precious natural ecosystems that maintain our environment. It drew my attention to early signs that things were going wrong as one by one rare and beautiful plants and ecosystems became endangered, as patches of forest that once wrapped you in awed silence morphed into “crappy regrowth” after logging, dying the death of a thousand cuts.

The Australian Alps in summer - Little Buller

The Australian Alps in summer – Little Buller

I sought out information on ecology and ecosystems and I started to follow talk of climate change. It is a thirty year journey that has brought me to an acceptance of climate change science and it has also made me aware that our current economic model, based on consumer throughput and the myth of perpetual growth is little more than a ponzi scheme that concentrates wealth into the hands of the already wealthy and the corporate overlords.

The massive scale of open cut coal mining and the coal extracted and then burned has a huge impact on the environment and on global warming. (aerial photo from Greenpeace publication "Point of No Return")

The massive scale of open cut coal mining and the coal extracted and then burned has a huge impact on the environment and on global warming. (aerial photo from Greenpeace publication “Point of No Return”)

Manipulated by flawed markets and economic rationalist thinking we have created the “anthropocene”, an age in which our collective actions have such an influence that they can and do change the fabric of the world, but we have also upset the balance and it seems likely that we will continue to do so until such time as the balance reaches a new and different equilibrium. Dictated by the earth itself it may not include humanity in its equations.I remember my experience on the Great Barrier Reef with gratitude. It is no longer possible to take a trip on a small plane and travel to the outer reef, and if it was you could well find that you were sharing the experience with a coal or oil tanker carrying its destructive load into the future.

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