Reef health

Fact or fiction: coral bleaching 101

Do you know what is fact or fiction?

As Australia’s lead management agency for the Reef, we monitor Reef conditions very closely.

Throughout the year, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority issue regular reports and over summer issue weekly public reports on the conditions of the Reef. These updates are based on forecasts, water temperature heat mapping, in-water surveys, citizen science and aerial surveys. Past Reef health updates are also available.

In addition to our regular updates, we’ve released the first Reef snapshot: summer 2019-20.  We also released statements about the mass coral bleaching that occurred on the Reef and a statement on aerial surveys, along with educational information on coral bleaching.

At the beginning of summer 2020-21, we will resume weekly Reef health updates.

Reef health update September 2020

Temperature and rainfall

In the last two weeks of September, sea surface temperatures throughout the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park were 0.5 - 1.5°C above the long-term monthly average.

La Niña established

The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed a La Niña is now established in the tropical Pacific.  All international climate models surveyed by the Bureau predict this event will continue until at least January 2021.

La Niña events typically bring more rainfall, cloud cover and tropical cyclones.

Around half of the international climate models predict a strong La Niña event, while three of eight models predict a moderate event. Models predict it will likely be stronger than the 2017-18 event, but weaker than the 2010-12 event.

Stranded turtles

In August, we saw a significant increase in the number of reports of stranded marine turtles, particularly green turtles.

These strandings occurred in the southern Marine Park, with Yeppoon beaches being a hotspot.

The cause of the strandings include boat strike, poor health/disease, entanglement and unknown causes.

The number of strandings were below thresholds for concern — however the numbers were higher than generally expected for August.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Coral bleaching and disease

Our Eye on the Reef network reported isolated instances of low severity coral bleaching and damage in all management areas.

Isolated instances of low severity coral disease were reported from all areas, except the Far Northern management area.

Crown-of-thorns starfish

Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks continue to impact reef health across all management areas.

Control vessels continue to conduct ongoing control and surveillance activities. These control efforts are effectively mitigating outbreaks and the damage to reef health.

The Marine Park Authority has developed an interactive Crown-of-thorns starfish Control Program Quarterly Reports Dashboard, which show progress of the control program, in both the current quarter and throughout the program to date (since its expansion in November 2018).

Tourism Industry Activation and Reef Protection Initiative

The Australian Government established a $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors severely affected by the coronavirus crisis.

This initiative will provide some business continuity within the Reef tourism industry through engaging marine tourism operators to undertake in-water conservation and monitoring activities.

One of the key activities delivered will be the collection of important data from in-water surveys through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef system, improving knowledge and understanding of Reef health, including impacts and recovery.