Coral-eating starfish controls making a difference but one of the warmest years on record for Queensland expected

Coral-eating starfish are being managed successfully on a number of reefs thanks to an innovative, world-leading control program, but with one of the top three warmest years on record for Queensland expected, some coral bleaching due to local weather conditions is a possibility for our Great Barrier Reef this summer.

That was a finding from this year’s annual pre-summer workshop convened by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to predict potential impacts on the Great Barrier Reef during the highly sensitive summer period.

The workshop brings scientists, marine and tourism managers, reef managers and experts together to look at how the Reef will fare over summer – with partners including the Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University and the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chief Scientist Dr David Wachenfeld said a  marine heatwave or severe mass coral bleaching was not forecast at this point as Reef waters were expected to be only a little warmer than average this summer.

“Overall, it’s predicted the summer will see warm and dry conditions until the monsoon, which will develop later than usual. The number of cyclones this season are expected to be below average. Local weather conditions will, as in past years, have a key influence on sea surface temperatures during the summer.

“We also can’t go past our crown-of-thorns starfish control program which is having great success in controlling outbreaks on targeted reefs, showing the value of collaborative and innovative programs in saving the coral on our beautiful Reef.”

Australian Institute of Marine Science scientist Dr Janice Lough said sea surface temperatures were rising and coral bleaching was occurring at large scales and more frequently because of climate change.

“This places enormous pressure on the Reef and if the temperatures remain high for too long the coral will die,” Dr Lough said.

Senior Lecturer in Physics at James Cook University, Dr Scott Heron, who also presented said,  “Local weather is always a factor in the risk of heat stress that can lead to bleaching.

“Last year, monsoonal cloud and rain reduced ocean temperature, halting the trajectory towards likely bleaching.  This year, conditions are cooler than last year but could rapidly warm if we see a period of low winds and sunny skies.  Long-term warming means that we’re starting at a generally higher temperature so less local heating is required to cross the bleaching threshold.”

While the pre-summer workshop is held annually to assess the risk of impacts to the Reef during this period, this group of people continue to share ideas, research and information all-year-round, Dr Wachenfeld said.

“This collaborative approach helps us provide industry and community with the best available information about what’s happening out on the Reef.

“Global action on climate change, combined with local actions in Marine Park management, improving water quality, and interventions such as our crown-of-thorn starfish control program will build resilience for the Reef for the future,” he said.


Interviews and photos/vision available:

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media team: (07) 4750 0846 |