The Cairns Esplanade is eerily quiet, the Reef Terminal closed, bars and cafes empty, casual employment has dried up and anxiety is rising as many of us realise, for the first time on a deeply personal level, our wider community's dependence on our vital tourism industry and irreplaceable Reef.
Our Great Barrier Reef is a magnificent world wonder, a vast and diverse ecosystem unlike any on Earth. It is our region's most precious treasure and the reason my family, like so many others, call Cairns home. Right now it's sending us a warning that even amidst the chaos of coronavirus we can not afford to overlook.
As a former dive instructor, many of my life's best moments have happened under the waves. I was even proposed to by my hubby on a dive at Flynn Reef.
This situation is scary for so many of us. My family is one of the thousands who rely on our Reef for our livelihoods. Just two weeks ago, my husband was running a successful small business connected to the dive industry. This week we are left wondering how we will provide for our family.
But all is not lost. Through these challenging times our community has the chance to take this moment of disruption as a chance to regroup and unite in the face of looming challenges.
Together we can rebuild and return to showcasing our beautiful marine life to the world. But only if we have a healthy Reef to showcase.
This summer our Reef suffered its third mass bleaching event in only five years, a heartbreaking result of the hottest February sea-surface temperatures on record. Thankfully our popular reefs outside of Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays were largely spared from bleaching this time, a much-needed reprieve for our tourism industry.
However, the severity and frequency of these bleaching events is a dire warning, that as custodians of our priceless Reef, we cannot ignore.
Just as we listen to medical experts when tackling coronavirus, we must listen to scientific experts when they warn us of critical threats to the health of our Reef. The science is clear: the only way to protect our Reef and our region's future is to act on the climate crisis. It's time to do our part to end our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels by rapidly transitioning to renewable energy.
Together we can use our powerful voices to pressure our government into taking this decisive, reef-saving action.
Elise Springett is a Cairns resident and former dive instructor who now works for Australian Marine Conservation Society.
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