Author: Ariane Wilkinson, Great Barrier Reef Program Manager, WWF-Australia

When it comes to our beautiful, iconic and world-famous Great Barrier Reef, what do you think of?

I think of the shape of the sun as it rises over the Coral Sea.

Let me explain.

The shape of the rising sun, when it reaches halfway up the horizon, creates a map for our future, and for the future of our beloved Reef.

Ariane Wilkinson is the Great Barrier Reef Program Manager at WWF-Australia © Supplied     Sunset over the ocean © Braden Jarvis via Unsplash

The flat horizontal line of the ocean, on the horizon, represents net-zero emissions.

If you look to the top of the Sun, and follow its curve down to where it is touching the horizon, you can see a map for the journey we must take together.

We must bend the arc of the world’s emissions towards net zero. And we must keep travelling along that curve downwards, with all the strength and creativity we can collectively muster until we reach our net-zero future at the ocean horizon line.

If we turn our sails to catch the wind, we can reach that future faster. A zero-emissions society, where our communities and economies thrive, in harmony with nature, in a zero-carbon world.

The latest climate and coral reef science tells us that we must follow that map our sun and ocean give to us with great speed.

We must also make moving faster more possible, and more probable, each year.


That is what the climate and coral reef science makes unequivocally clear is required of us.

That is what our Great Barrier Reef requires of us.

As the Great Barrier Reef Traditional Custodians have said in the Healing Country Statement. “We need to see the real threats posed by climate change and face these challenges head on. All Australians need to come together and show the Reef the respect she deserves.” Their leadership, along with the leadership of more than 70 Traditional Owner groups who have protected the Great Barrier Reef for thousands of generations, shows us the way.


Reef crest dominated by robust branching corals and coralline algae, Great Barrier Reef © WWF-Australia / James Morgan


Hope is a funny thing, and it can be found in the most unlikely of places.


The science shows our Reef is in very serious trouble with some climate damage impacts already locked in. Yet in 2021, I joined the wonderful team at WWF-Australia to manage our Great Barrier Reef Program, to join with my colleagues in continuing WWF-Australia’s two-decade legacy of implementing impactful policy solutions to reduce the Reef’s three key threats of climate damage, overfishing and water pollution. It is not a decision I took lightly, with IPCC science making clear that even if we win in holding global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, 70-90% of our Great Barrier Reef will be damaged by underwater heatwaves caused by global warming. That fact can feel heavy. We will lose parts of our Reef. It is a fact that arises from decades of delay and inaction by all levels of government and politicians on all sides of the debate, despite the warnings of scientists. So where do we find our hope, when it comes to the Great Barrier Reef?

I find hope by remembering that this locked-in climate damage is not where our love of the Great Barrier Reef ends. It is only the middle of our story. It is the pause, as the tide turns – what my great-grandmother would call “the Nauwa”. Together, we can turn the tide, by helping drive Australia’s domestic and exported emissions downwards this decade, while ensuring we continue to build a strong economy. We can be a big part of the solution as a country, rather than global leaders driving further climate damage through fossil fuel exports, rising domestic emissions, and being at the back of the pack on global ambition. We have so much possibility in our opportunity as a Renewable Energy Exports Superpower, a pathway for Australia to act rapidly on climate change that can bring with it a just economic transformation across our economy.


WWF-Australia conservationist Christine Hof swimming with a green turtle at Heron Island © WWF-Australia / Jacinta Shackleton


Today, right now, Australian governments, businesses, and communities have everything we need to decarbonise our domestic and exported emissions to reach net zero, and fast. We can do this with just outcomes for workers and communities, good outcomes for nature, and create a world where our Reef has a future. We really do have it all in Australia - the most to gain from rapid climate action, and the most to lose from delay.

What an opportunity.

What a responsibility.

My four-year-old daughter has told me she would like to manage a Great Barrier Reef program when she grows up... I’ve not explained all the climate and coral science to her yet. There is time for teaching her that science. But first, I will teach her about the Reef’s beauty. I will teach her about having the courage to speak up for the protection of places she loves, and to find strength in gratefulness to those around her who speak up alongside her.

And I will teach her to look to the sun rising over the Coral Sea, for solutions, for hope, for a way forward.

It really is such an extraordinary time to have the opportunity to speak up about our love of the Great Barrier Reef, and our opportunity to transform our Australian economy, so that we can do our part to give it a fighting chance. And here we are, together, this Earth Hour, thinking about our love for the Great Barrier Reef. Marvelling at its wonders and its beauty. Working, with our friends, colleagues and community, at every level, for the Reef to be protected. To be passed onto future generations. We must follow that curve of the sun to that ocean horizon, bend our arc of global emissions down towards net zero, to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees. That is a safer climate future for the Great Barrier Reef, and a safer climate future for all of us. And that is worth fighting for.


You have the power to Shape Our Future.

Sign up to switch off this Earth Hour at 8.30pm local time, March 26.