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Great Barrier Reef May Term

Study the politics of protecting the Great Barrier Reef at the Great Barrier Reef!

Comprised of 900 islands that stretch for over 1,600 miles just off Australia’s northeastern coast, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is roughly half the size of Texas. It’s the only living organism visible from space. Despite its status as an Australian icon and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the GBR is under threat. In 2016, it experienced the worst episode of coral bleaching in recorded history—around 90 percent of corals in its northernmost reaches died. This led Outside magazine to publish an obituary for the GBR. Reports of the Reef’s death were an exaggeration, but it’s true that the GBR faces numerous and formidable challenges—coastal development, agricultural run-off, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, damage from shipping traffic, overfishing, and climate change, among others. How could such a beloved environmental treasure be in such a perilous state? What can be done to save it? This course takes students to Townsville, Australia—home to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—in search of answers to these important questions.

Addressing these questions requires a level of engagement that transcends glossy tourist brochures and sensationalist news headlines. Students will learn firsthand the complex political, economic, and societal contexts within which the GBR exists. The Reef is located in the state of Queensland. While Queensland is roughly two-and-a-half-times the size of Texas, its population is only 5.1 million. Compare that to Texas, which is home to 29 million people—that’s more people than live in all of Australia! Like Texas, Queensland is known for its conservative political culture, and agricultural and energy industries play important roles in its economy. The GBR lies in close proximity to important farming and mining regions. Large ports, like the one in Townsville, enable Australia’s commodities to enter the stream of global commerce. Bound mainly for Asia, massive container ships ferry their cargos through the GBR’s fragile ecosystems. The GBR is also a tourist-magnet. Over two million visitors each year inject roughly AU$6 billion into the local economy. And finally, over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner Groups maintain longstanding and continuing relationships with land located in the GBR region. Some have done so for at least 40,000 years! These various (and often competing) interests complicate policymaking with respect to the Reef.

Learn More

To learn more about the program, visit the tabs to the right. For more information about program costs and the application process, visit Texas Global.