Great Barrier Reef coastal ecosystems

The extent of coastal ecosystems – and the way they function – can have a big impact on the long-term health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

There are 14 coastal ecosystems that are important to the function of the Reef: coral reefs, lagoon floor, islands, open water, seagrasses, coastline, estuaries, freshwater wetlands, forested floodplain, heath and shrublands, grass and sedgelands, woodlands, forests and rainforests.

These provide important links between land, freshwater and marine environments, as well as feeding and breeding grounds for many marine species.

Changes or losses to these coastal ecosystems can lead to a variety of adverse environmental impacts, as well as serious implications for industries dependent on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Informing the outlook for Great Barrier Reef coastal ecosystems is a technical report on the current status of the catchment and the threats it faces.

Coastal ecosystems and the pressures they face are complex due to the sheer size and scale of the Great Barrier Reef catchment.  The catchment consists of 35 basins – further work to assess coastal ecosystems at this basin scale has been carried out. A method for collecting and collating the data was developed with the help of experts and piloted in some of the Great Barrier Reef basins.

Ecological functions

Coastal ecosystems provide a range of ecological services that support the Reef, including water distribution, food and habitat, and nutrient and chemical cycling.

For example, many reef species use the catchment for some part of their lifecycle. Adult mangrove jacks live in the Reef, but as larvae they migrate through freshwater rivers and streams and have even been found more than 100 km inland.

Barramundi also use floodplain habitats for parts of their life history.

Poor water quality in these habitats affects the health, survival, growth and breeding of many species that live in the Great Barrier Reef.

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