Timeline and actions

We’re focusing our efforts on understanding the impact of two significant events on the Great Barrier Reef — coral bleaching and severe tropical cyclone Debbie.

Below is a timeline of the events, along with details of the management actions undertaken by the Marine Park Authority and our partners.

Information from all sources including the agency’s Eye on the Reef system is being used to build a Reef-wide picture of how the Great Barrier Reef is faring this summer.

There are still many reefs throughout the Marine Park — an area bigger than Italy — with abundant living coral and the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic natural wonder.

  • In January 2017 the Marine Park Authority began receiving increased reports of bleaching and coral disease from marine park rangers, commercial operators, science partners and reef visitors submitting their observations through the Eye on the Reef monitoring program.
  • On 21 and 22 February 2017 the Marine Park Authority conducted spot checks on reefs between Cairns and Townsville and this revealed moderate to severe coral bleaching at some reefs. A total of 54 in-water spot surveys of six reefs took place, with all six reefs surveyed showing signs of thermal stress. High levels of coral disease were also recorded at some sites.
  • Marine Park rangers from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Marine Park Authority conducted further spot checks on reefs between Lizard Island and Townsville. Divers from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators have also been conducting reef health and impact surveys.
  • On 9 March 2017 experts from the Marine Park Authority spent six hours flying over the Reef between Townsville and Cairns, alongside researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The first aerial survey of the Reef for 2017 found severe bleaching in offshore reefs from north of Ingham to the northern extent of the survey near Cairns. This year more bleaching is being observed in this central part of the Reef, which last year escaped widespread severe bleaching.
  • On 16 March 2017 Marine Park Authority staff participated in the first of a series of comprehensive Reef-wide aerial surveys being conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Preliminary information from the first survey indicated all reefs surveyed between Cairns and Lockhart River (the northern extent of the survey) showed bleaching to some extent, varying from mild to severe. Severe bleaching has also been confirmed between Cairns and Ingham, with hotspots of severe bleaching inshore between Townsville and Mackay.
  • In March and early April 2017 ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies completed aerial surveys of nearly 800 individual coral reefs across the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.
  • On 28 March 2017 category four cyclone Debbie crossed the Queensland coast at Airlie Beach. Cyclone Debbie was the tenth severe category cyclone to affect the Great Barrier Reef since 2005. The cyclone did not occur soon enough in the year or extend far enough north to alleviate hot conditions in the worst bleached areas between Townsville and Port Douglas.
  • On 30 March 2017 the Marine Park Authority announced Whitsunday tourism operators could receive a special four-week authorisation to assist reef recovery by reorientating corals flipped over by cyclone Debbie which crossed the coast at Airlie Beach.
  • From early to mid-April 2017, teams from the Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service conducted initial in-water surveys of the reefs surrounding the Whitsundays Islands. These surveys revealed some sites have suffered significant damage and are down to very low coral cover, while others received less damage and still have moderate coral cover.
  • From 27 to 29 April 2017, Marine Park Authority staff re-visited a small number of reefs between Cairns and Townsville previously surveyed in February 2017. The second round of surveys confirmed the area had been severely impacted by coral bleaching and identified significant coral mortality. These reefs were subject to long periods of higher than average temperatures over the summer, which represented significant heat stress.