Statement on Great Barrier Reef condition

Statement from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Dr Russell Reichelt

Claims in the weekend media that the Great Barrier Reef is dead are irresponsible and untrue.

I am deeply concerned about the impacts of the mass coral bleaching event which is affecting coral reefs throughout the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. 

Headlines that disempower people will not help us protect the Reef’s long-term future, which continues to be my sole mission and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s single, steadfast focus. 

The Authority’s preliminary analysis of last summer’s coral bleaching event indicates its impact was highly variable across the Great Barrier Reef with an overall coral mortality of 22 per cent. The most severe bleaching occurred in the remote northern third of the Marine Park, which experienced the greatest heat stress, while most reefs south of Port Douglas–Cairns region escaped major impacts.

The 2016 mass coral bleaching, the worst bleaching event to affect the Great Barrier Reef, was triggered by record-breaking sea surface temperatures — reflecting the underlying trend of global ocean warming caused by climate change combined with a strong El Niño.

The Authority is back in the water with its management partners surveying the survivorship and recovery rates of coral following last summer’s bleaching event. The surveys are being conducted across the Reef over six weeks and will provide an up-to-date assessment of impacted coral.

Ensuring Reef resilience is our core priority and we are doing all we can to support its recovery. 

Over the next decade the Australian and Queensland governments will spend some $2 billion on Reef protection with the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef continuing to be a national priority, with the Marine Park Authority playing a key role. 

The national effort includes financing clean energy projects through the Reef Fund, improving water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient runoff into Reef waters through Reef Trust, controlling the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish through investment in surveillance and control programs, as well as additional programs valued at some $460 million over eight years to protect the Reef. 

The Authority continues its core Marine Park management work which over four decades has played a critical role in supporting Reef resilience — through its internationally-acclaimed zoning plan which protects marine life and habitats, working with tourism and research partners to control the coral-eating crown-of-thorns, its regulatory work and scientific-based adaptive management approach, and its focus on working with government, community and industry partners to build capacity and deliver benefits for Reef health. 

The work of the joint Field Management Program, implemented with the Queensland Government, is paramount in maintaining compliance with the zoning plan. We are stepping up activities to deal with illegal fishing including targeting known hotspots and investing in smart compliance technology.

The Reef is a very large and resilient ecosystem. While the bleaching this year was very serious, recent studies have shown that in the three years prior to the bleaching coral cover increased by 19 per cent across the Marine Park.

The Great Barrier Reef still remains in a much better state than many other coral reefs around the world; however, the severity of the global mass bleaching event reinforces the need for a concerted international effort on climate change as well as national and local actions to reduce all other pressures on the Reef. 

Our message should be one of empowerment — working together, we can make a difference.