Steamboat Mountain School students work to help save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef |

Steamboat Mountain School students work to help save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Annalise Grekalski and Maya-Elle Michaud-Thomas/For Steamboat Today

Steamboat Mountain School students Colton Oleski, Nicole Zedeck, Chip Anderson, Vidal Zuniga, Yoshi Sakai, Mason Reed, Sean Pellman, Ansel Luchau, Cole Morgan, Elle Michaud Thomas and Annalise Grekalski, from left, traveled around Australia and had the opportunity to work with Dr. Adam Smith, a marine biologist who started his own company, Reef Ecologic in order to clean up the Great Barrier Reef.

Steamboat Springs is known for its legendary Champagne powder, beautiful seasons and friendly people. Steamboat Mountain School is a small high school known not only by locals but by alumni and their families throughout the world.

Because Steamboat Mountain School is a boarding school as well as a day high school, students travel from across the world to attend this small college preparatory school in our small, friendly town. Not only do students travel to Steamboat Mountain School, but students also travel with Steamboat Mountain School.

Each year, about half of the students — the ones who aren’t competing in skiing or
Snowboarding — travel to a foreign country for a month as part of our school's Global Immersion Studies program. The goal of traveling is to immerse ourselves in new cultures and learn by experience.

This year, some of the junior and senior class were able to travel around Australia. During our stay in Australia, we had the amazing opportunity to work with Dr. Adam Smith, a dedicated marine biologist who started his own company, Reef Ecologic, in order to clean up the Great Barrier Reef and help other countries with reef conservation.

The Great Barrier Reef is a vast marine area covering approximately 132,973 square miles. By comparison, that is roughly the same area as Italy, and it is the only reef ecosystem that can be seen from outer space.

It is the world's most extensive structure built by living organisms, containing over 3,000 coral reefs including 400 different coral variants, over 1,625 species of fish, and over 133 types of sharks and rays. The reef contains millions of years of life.

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It helps control ocean currents, houses an array of life, filters and cleans water, produces a massive amount of oxygen and is considered to be one of our planet's great wonders.

The Great Barrier Reef has a massive global impact, yet our actions are leading to its destruction. The current trajectory of The Great Barrier Reef is a negative one. In the northern region of Australia, over 81 percent of the coral has been severely damaged, and the other regions are not far behind.

Despite the tragedies the reef has faced over that past years, there is still hope and potential for recovery. This, however, cannot occur without all of us doing our part.

In Australia, we took action by participating in a reef recovery project with Reef Ecologic. We spent an afternoon snorkeling and removing seaweed in order to allow coral the opportunity to grow.

Excited, we geared up to snorkel and clean up the reef. With our snorkels on, and flippers on our feet, we spent the afternoon pulling algae off of the coral. Not only was our work incredibly entertaining, but it was also contributing to a good cause.

Before we started pulling algae, the portion of the reef that we were working on was 60 percent covered by algae and had 10 percent visible live rock — rock that is available for coral growth. After a hard day’s work, we managed to reduce the algae percentage to 4 percent and increase the visible live rock percentage to 64 percent.

Not only were we able to physically see the work we had done, but we were able to weigh, for scientific purposes, and dispose of the algae. We collected over 81 pounds of algae, which was the second-largest amount that a group has ever collected with Reef Ecologic.

The work that we did allows new coral to grow and potentially brings dying coral back to life in order to create a healthy ecosystem on the Great Barrier Reef.

Even though Steamboat is far away from Australia’s coast, we can still help. If everyone believes that one small action will not change anything, then we remain stagnant. However, one person taking small steps toward improving the current situation can have a large impact.

In order for any difference to occur, we must begin by simply trying. If you take steps toward bettering the world around you, then you have the potential inspire others, and through positive chain reactions, there could be hundreds, thousands or even millions of people taking steps toward creating a better world.

Change starts on an individual basis, so we challenge you to only shop with reusable bags, to consider eating meatless one day a week, to shop locally, to use reusable water bottles and to donate something as small as one dollar to an organization that is helping restore the Great Barrier Reef.

We challenge you to take one positive action every day. It could be as small as turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, because everything helps. If we all work together to reduce our collective ecological footprint, then we have the power to spark the changes the world needs.

Steamboat Mountain School is incredibly grateful for all of the hard work Dr. Adam Smith has put toward such an inspiring cause and the fact that he was so willing to take a group of mountain kids to help him out.

Editor’s note: Annalise Grekalski and Maya-Elle Michaud-Thomas are both members of Steamboat Mountain School’s Class of 2018.