Forum puts the focus on coral bleaching

Industry and community representatives will receive an update on results from coral bleaching surveys at a forum hosted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Townsville today.

The forum will outline the findings to date on what has become the most severe coral bleaching event to affect the Great Barrier Reef, and canvas additional actions that government, industry and the community can take to reduce other pressures on the ecosystem to support recovery.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Chairman Russell Reichelt said this summer’s mass bleaching was worse than the previous event in 2002 due to the extent of severe bleaching.

“It’s part of a global event triggered by climate change and one of the strongest El Niños ever recorded — in combination they’ve driven up sea temperatures to be much warmer than usual,” Dr Reichelt said.

“Bleached coral is not dead, however it’s severely stressed and can result in die-off.

“The bleaching is currently displaying a distinct north-south gradient, whereby the most severely affected reefs are in the far north, above Port Douglas. However, patches of severe bleaching have also been detected as far south as offshore Mackay.

“It’s important to note that while the bleaching is widespread, it varies across the extent of the vast Reef system, which is larger than Italy. There are many reefs minimally affected at this stage.

“There will always be survivors, even among the bleached reefs, which will seed recovery — and that’s something we all need to foster where possible.”

Today’s forum is part of a series hosted by GBRMPA to keep the community and stakeholders informed of developments. The gathering will include members from the tourism and aquarium collection industries, and representatives from conservation groups, and government and science agencies.

Dr Reichelt said the agency had a well-developed incident response system, developed and fine-tuned over a decade, and included annual pre-summer preparations to assess the risk of coral bleaching.

“Our survey efforts are operating at a maximum level, and we’re working closely with our science partners to get a full picture of the impact of coral bleaching, and any resulting die-off, as well as the potential repercussions,” he said.

“However, everyone has a role in responding to this event. Some actions are large scale and long term like addressing climate change, and doing what we can at a national and individual level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Others are medium term and Reef-wide such as improving the quality of water that flows from the catchment to the Reef — this means reducing the run-off of fertilisers, pesticides and sediment.

“Others are short term and local such as the work we’re doing with the tourism industry to reduce the severity of outbreaks by the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

“Overall, there is no single solution to improving the health and resilience of the Reef — instead it requires concerted action locally, Reef-wide and internationally, and that increasingly means taking active intervention to give it a fighting chance of recovery.

“We will continue doing everything within our power to protect this natural wonder for future generations.”

Regular updates about coral bleaching can be found at