GREAT BARRIER REEF
// Outlook Report 2014
Outlook report 2009: Overall summary of long-term outlook for the ecosystem The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem, along with most other coral reef ecosystems, is at a crossroad, and it is decisions made in the next few years that are likely to determine its long-term future. Unavoidably, future predictions of climate change dominate most aspects of the Great Barrier Reef’s outlook over the next few decades. The extent and persistence of the damage will depend to a large degree on the extent to which climate change is addressed worldwide and on the resilience of the ecosystem in the immediate future. Many ecosystem components are already showing some effects from climate change (for example increased frequency and severity of coral bleaching and decreased density of coral structures). It is only with atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide between current levels and about 400ppm that the key groups of species and habitats of the Great Barrier Reef have low or moderate vulnerability to climate change. If the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increases beyond these levels then there will be serious consequences for the Great Barrier Reef. At a concentration of 500ppm, it is predicted that many components of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem would be highly vulnerable, including seabirds, fish, marine reptiles and plankton. At about this concentration of carbon dioxide, hard corals would likely become functionally extinct and coral reefs would be eroding rapidly. Much is being done to reduce the local and regional pressures on the Great Barrier Reef and therefore improve its resilience, for example improvements in land management practices and careful management of use of the Region. Management initiatives that further improve the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem will mean that the ecosystem is better able to cope with and recover from the impacts of climate change in coming years. This resilience will depend in large part on how effectively the risks of coastal development, catchment runoff and some extractive use are addressed into the future. Variations in ecosystem response to the threats will occur along the length and width of the Great Barrier Reef. Such regional differences are now observable and are likely to become more obvious over time. Generally, the areas at most significant risk are those closest to already developed areas that have already deteriorated more because of catchment runoff and coastal development. For some of the threats related to climate change, southern areas of the Great Barrier Reef Region, especially inshore, are predicted to be the most vulnerable. Ultimately, if changes to the world’s climate become too severe, no management actions will be able to climateproof the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.
The preceding chapters have assessed the current condition and trend of the ecological, economic, social and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region (the Region) (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5), the factors affecting those values (Chapter 6), the effectiveness of protection and management measures (Chapter 7), the resultant resilience of the Region’s ecosystem and its heritage values (Chapter 8), and finally, the risks the ecosystem and heritage values are facing (Chapter 9). The outcomes of these assessments (Figure 10.1) — combined with consideration of the knowledge available for management, likely future trends and current and future management initiatives — can be used to build an updated picture of the predicted long–term outlook for the Region. The Region’s ecosystem and its heritage values are many, diverse and inter-related as well as being socially, biophysically and jurisdictionally complex. This complicates assessing their likely long-term future as a multitude of influencing factors and current and future management initiatives must be considered.
The future outlook is based on the report’s assessments and future initiatives.