Current conditions on the Reef

Each summer, we assess the health of reefs, as this part of the year poses a greater risk of coral bleaching, extreme weather and flooding.

Stressful conditions can lead to coral disease outbreaks, while poor water quality can also lead to greater numbers of coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

Environmental conditions

April 2014

Conditions on the Great Barrier Reef remain neutral according to the Bureau of Meteorology:

  • The El Niño-Southern Oscillation is currently within the neutral range, indicating neither drought nor wet season generally associated with El Niño or La Niña conditions. However, the chance of an El Niño (drier conditions) occurring in 2014 has increased.
  • Sea surface temperatures remained near average since December 2013, although current observations indicate the tropical Pacific Ocean is warming. Most models show sea surface temperatures reaching warmer El Niño thresholds during the southern hemisphere winter.
  • A near average level of cyclone activity (four cyclones in eastern Australia) is forecast for this season. So far, three cyclones (cyclones Dylan, Edna and Ita) occurred in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Category 5 cyclone Ita crossed the Reef at Lizard Island on Friday 11 April and made landfall at Cape Flattery as a category 4.
  • A lower than average rainfall season is forecast for most of eastern Australia during March to May 2014.
  • Flood plumes are influenced by the level of rainfall received in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. Since October 2013, the catchment experienced low to average levels of rainfall, a pattern set to continue through April 2014.

Our table of observations and forecasts provides more detailed information. Reef health monitoring is ramped up over this time to keep an eye on the marine environment.

Coral reef health reports

Together with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Eye on the Reef monitoring network, we’ve carried out 894 reef health and impact surveys across 88 reefs on the Great Barrier Reef since 1 December 2013.

Most (83 per cent) of these surveys were completed in the Cairns-Cooktown region, and the majority of the remainder in the Mackay-Capricorn region.

Of all the surveys, 44 per cent recorded healthy coral reefs with no impacts, 30 per cent had one type of impact and another 26 per cent recorded more than one impact.

Predation (mainly by crown-of-thorns starfish) was seen in 40 per cent of the surveys.

Some signs of coral stress, such as low-level coral bleaching and disease, were also evident in 20 per cent of surveys. Signs of low level coral damage could be seen in approximately 27 per cent of surveys. In the majority of cases the damage was attributed to adverse weather conditions or marine animals.

Potential damage to the Reef by cyclone Ita will be assessed in the coming month.

Want to help us keep an eye on the Great Barrier Reef? Find out more about our programs and how you can get involved.