Coral bleaching risks

Published: 12/11/2015

In the lead up to each summer, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) assesses the potential weather impacts that the Reef may be exposed to over the coming months.

This year, we are closely monitoring the risks that the current strong El Niño poses to the Great Barrier Reef.

At this early stage, no significant bleaching has been observed on the Reef, and while the El Niño in the Pacific, coupled with climate change, poses a higher risk of heat stress that can cause coral bleaching, much will depend on local conditions.

For example, high cloud cover and wave action can mitigate bleaching by reducing heat absorption by the ocean — such conditions have prevented bleaching from occurring in a number of past El Niño events.

We are monitoring sea surface temperatures closely and will continue to work with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to forecast and assess coral bleaching conditions and help target in-water surveys.

We will also bring together scientists and managers in Townsville in late November to fully assess the coral bleaching risk for the 2015–16 summer.

In addition, we will join a new national taskforce which will study mass coral bleaching if it were to occur. This will be led by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and include the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the CSIRO.

With our partners, GBRMPA will also assess the extent and impacts of the event, and consider what practical measures can be taken to support coral condition and recovery.

The community’s role in this will be important — if corals are bleached it means they are under stress and we all need to do what we can to reduce pressure on them.

This means practical actions such as following the Marine Park zoning rules, not anchoring close to coral, improving water quality, and taking steps to reduce marine debris.

All of these actions will give corals a greater capacity to recover if bleaching were to occur.

For more information on coral bleaching and the El Nino, see our fact sheet.

Name: GBRMPA media
Contact: (07) 4750 0846