GREAT BARRIER REEF
// Outlook Report 2014
Following the Outlook Report 2009, there was a stocktake of the scientific and other knowledge available about the Region, with gaps identified. The subsequent report, Scientific Information Needs for the Management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park 2009–20141, guided investment in research to underpin management.
10.2.1 Improved understanding
Since 2009, understanding of recent trends in the condition of some ecosystem components has improved. For example, comprehensive data about key components relating to water quality in the Region are now collected and synthesised in annual report cards. There has also been pivotal analysis of the long-term dataset on coral reefs that has highlighted ongoing and significant declines. In addition, recent research has revealed what coral reefs were like long before current methods of scientific measurement. This is critical to understanding the baseline condition of reefs in the Region. The importance of good connectivity, both within the Region and with its supporting terrestrial habitats, is increasingly recognised. The Paddock to Reef program continues to improve knowledge of how activities in the catchment affect the Reef ecosystem. There is also better understanding of connectivity within the ecosystem such as between fished and unfished reefs. Integrated marine observing infrastructure is allowing more robust and accurate hydrodynamic and other models to be developed for the Region. Understanding of the impacts on the Region’s ecosystem caused by a loss of connectivity and ecosystem services as a result of clearing and modifying coastal habitats has improved considerably. As has understanding of the actions needed to protect and restore such habitats. There has been increased recognition of the key factors relevant to the overall future of the Region’s ecosystem and its heritage values. As outlined in previous chapters, drivers, activities, past and current impacts and future risks do not operate independently, but are intertwined in a complex web causing cumulative effects. Recently, techniques for better conceptualising cumulative impacts within the context of the Region and its catchment have started to emerge.2,3 ‘SeaSim’, an ocean simulation facility at the Australian Institute of Marine Science which became operational in 2013, will enable an improved understanding of cumulative impacts. Economic and population growth, technological developments, and societal attitudes are more explicitly recognised in this report (see Chapter 6) as key drivers for the Region’s values than in the Outlook Report 2009. Improved understanding of their trends provides context for proactive and appropriate management of the values and the influences on them, in a way that takes into account likely future changes. These social and economic drivers are being monitored through a recently established Social and Economic Long-term Monitoring Program. Although heritage values were implicitly considered within some aspects of the Outlook Report 2009, a far more formal and comprehensive approach has now been established. The Region’s heritage values are now better defined, including through specific studies to scope aesthetic4 and geomorphological5 attributes, and there is greater recognition of the direct connections between heritage values and the Reef ecosystem.
Continually improving understanding is a key to securing the Reef’s future.
10.2.2 Remaining information gaps