An ecosystem refers to a system formed by the interaction of all living organisms with each other and with the physical environment in which they live. Ecosystems provide the basis on which life on Earth functions and therefore their management and protection is essential. The reason for managing and protecting ecosystems include utility values, intrinsic values, heritage values, the need for natural change to proceed and the maintenance of genetic diversity. The Great Barrier Reef is an ecosystem that requires management and protection in order to maintain the values mentioned above. It is the world's largest reef ecosystem, composed of over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2600 kilometres down Queensland's coast.
An ecosystem's utility value refers to the uses that people make of ecosystems as a whole or by harvesting the resources formed because of energy flows and nutrient cycling. Protection is necessary in order to continue these uses into the future. The Great Barrier Reef ecosystem has a great utility value as do all coral reef ecosystems. Coral reefs provide marine chemicals such as histamines, hormones, antibiotics, and secosteroids which are necessary for the development of drugs AZT, Ara-A, Ara-C, and Dolostatin 10, which combat AIDS, cancer asthma, arthritis, and inflammatory disorders. They are also proving beneficial for people with heart, kidney, and liver transplant. This alone gives the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem the value of greatly improving the quality of human life. Furthermore, coral reefs provide fish and other food for humans, and have a large contribution to economies across the globe. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have sourced the Great Barrier Reef as a rich source of food throughout their history. The Great Barrier Reef's fishing industry is valued at approximately $360 million and directly employs over 200 people. The Great Barrier Reef has a supreme aesthetic appeal and also provides the opportunity for recreational activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, and various water sports. Combined, these two factors make the ecosystem one of Australia's largest tourist destinations. As a result, The Great Barrier Reef generates over $2 billion in revenue from tourism each year. These vast utility values make the management and protection of The Great Barrier Reef very important.
The intrinsic value of ecosystems refers to the special and unique aspects of an ecosystem which gives it the right to exist in its natural state. This gives all ecosystems value by their mere existence and therefore all ecosystems have the right to be managed and protected. The intrinsic value of ecosystems stems from the recognition that the biophysical environment induces spirituality and inspiration into the humans who interact with it. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on Earth and this alone makes the ecosystem very unique giving it immense intrinsic value. However, the sheer beauty of the Great Barrier Reef also provides a means by which humans can connect with the biophysical environment making its protection and management crucial.
An ecosystem's heritage value refers to the elements of our natural heritage which should be preserved for the enjoyment and wellbeing of future generations and as links to the past. Heritage can be define as a sense of place, and links to the past. The Great Barrier Reef is a great Australian icon. It is a symbol for the diversity, unity and beauty of the nation. Therefore the protection of The Great Barrier Reef is vital in maintaining the Australian sense of identity. Furthermore, the reef can be identified as having 'outstanding universal value from the aesthetic point of view.' This was identified by the World Heritage Committee in 1981 when The Great Barrier Reef became officially recognised as a 'UNESCO World Heritage Site.'
Ecosystems are the result of millions of years of evolutionary changes, therefore it is essential to protect and mange them, in order to allow natural change to proceed. We have an ethical responsibility to not interfere with natural processes. The Great Barrier Reef is up to 18 million years old in some areas. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has identified areas for preservation in which all people are excluded from entering parts of the reefs where natural change is allowed to proceed.
Management and protection of ecosystems is important in the maintenance of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity refers to the gene pool within a population in an ecosystem. Diversity increases the ecosystem's resilience and decreases its vulnerability by making the species in the ecosystem less susceptible to natural stress. The Great Barrier Reef ecosystem has colossal diversity. It is home to over 400 fish species and greater than 800 species of coral polyps making it the most diverse marine ecosystem on the planet and therefore its management and protection is essential.
The protection and management of ecosystems, including The Great Barrier Reef, is exceptionally important to the existence of life on Earth. Humans should live in harmony with the biophysical environment and we have the responsibility to manage and protect The Great Barrier Reef.
National Geographic on the Great Barrier Reef
© 2016 Billy Zhang